Habitat: oceans worldwide (?)
Status: Not Listed

Sometimes I happen across creatures that quite literally take my breath away. This happens to be one of them. Meet the Sapphire Copepod (Sapphirina sp.) or Sea Sapphire, which looks like something out of a underwater fairytale.

I first read about the sea sapphire on Deep Sea News. Copepods are similar to krill in that they’re tiny marine crustaceans that make up the bottom of the food chain.

sea sapphire, sapphirina copepod

photo: Flickr user CIOERT

While these little creatures are only millimeters in length, what they lack in size they make up for in beauty. The original article stated that they had been found in Africa as well as in places like Rhode Island and California. There are quite a few subspecies in the Sapphirina genus, so I’m thinking that’s how they have such a wide range. Apparently they sometimes congregate in large masses at the water’s surface which makes the water sparkle like it’s filled with millions of diamonds rather than H20 molecules. Japanese fisherman of old would refer to this kind of water as, “tama-mizu”, jeweled water.

And looking at the photos, it’s easy to see why:

sea sapphire, Sapphirina copepod

The copepods are normally transparent, but when caught in just the right light they shimmer and sparkle an electrifying blueish purple (in addition to any other colors that might pick up). However, only the males give off this fantastic aura. The reason for that is quite complex and relatively mysterious, as the Deep Sea News article points out, but it’s in part due to the sea sapphire’s unique social behavior and strange crystalline skin.

 So how does it produce that incredible light show you ask? Well, the article states:

The secret to the sea sapphire’s shine is in microscopic layers of crystal plates inside their cells. In the case of blue sea sapphires, these crystal layers are separated by only about four ten thousandths of a millimeter; about the same distance as a wavelength of blue light. When blue light bounces off these crystal layers, it is perfectly preserved and reflected. But for other colors of light, these small differences in distance interfere, causing the colors to cancel out. So while white light is composed of all colors, only blue light is reflected back. This type of coloration is known as structural coloration, and though resembling a gem in hue, a sea sapphire’s color has more in common with an oil sheen than a pigmented jewel. Combine this nifty trick with the sea sapphire’s impressively transparent body, and you have an animal as radiant as a star in one moment, and invisible in the next.

To really understand how stunning these creatures are, watch the video below:

Octopod? Copepod? from liquidguru on Vimeo

Thanks to Deep Sea News – make sure to check out their site for more undersea awesomeness.