Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ceratium, Alberta's Carnivorous Alga

Ceratium hirundinella, featured above, is a single-celled dinoflagellate, which may very well be the coolest non-dinosaur name given to a creature. Its name is well-deserved: Ceratium is a monster. It is the fastest moving of the algae, and it is a carnivore, actively hunting down other algae while also generating food from the sun. During periods of stress, they can form cysts that are resistant to winter temperatures and dehydration. The hardiness of these cysts has enabled Ceratium to spread throughout the northern hemisphere. It is apparently also making inroads in South America.

You will know these beasts by their Eiffel-tower like appearance. These four appendages allow Ceratium  to remain suspended in the upper water column, where they can receive light from the sun. Ceratium, like all dinoflagellates, move via long hairs known as flagella. You cannot see the hairs in this video, but you can see the horizontal groove that separates the 'base' of the tower from the 'peak'; in this groove resides one of the flagella.

They are important food sources in freshwater systems. This individual was captured from a pond at the University of Calgary.

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