July babies rejoice! Have we got the gift idea for you to shamelessly drop hints to your loved ones about. Meet the Dino Pet - a toy dinosaur that lights up with the activity of tiny, bioluminescent dinoflagellates. Contained inside an Apatosaurus-shaped aquarium, these microscopic plankton live and breed. At night, if their home is gently agitated, their bioluminescent cells flare up, giving the Dino Pet an incredible blue glow.
Also known as sea sparkles, these dinoflagellates (Pyrocystis fusiformis) are found in warm ocean waters in depths of up to 100 metres in Taiwan, the Adriatic Sea, Black Sea, the Canary Islands, Brazil, India, China, and Australia. At about 1 mm long, they're difficult to see with the naked eye, but grab a microscope and you'll find that these single-cell organisms are shaped like lovely little kayaks.
The bioluminescence they emit when disturbed - a phenomenon known as mareel - is produced in the cytoplasm, which is a thick cellular fluid that's contained by the creature's cell membrane. In order for light to be produced and emitted from the cytoplasm, two special chemicals need to be present: luciferin and luciferase. Luciferin is responsible for actually producing the light, which can appear in a range of colours - yellow in fireflies, green in lanternfish, and blue in dinoflagellates.
While some species source their luciferin in the food they eat, like how flamingoes get their pink pigment through their special shellfish diet, dinoflagellates are able to produce their own supply of luciferin. When the water around the dinoflagellates is agitated, this causes the luciferin to become oxidised, and it reacts with an enzyme called luciferase. "The interaction of the luciferase with oxidised (oxygen-added) luciferin creates a byproduct, called oxyluciferin," explains National Geographic. "More importantly, the chemical reaction creates light."
So don't worry - giving your Dino Pet a delicate shake won't stress out your dinoflagellates, it's what they're used to out in the wild ocean. But, you know, everything in moderation. The company behind the mini aquarium, Vat19, says that you just need to pour a pouch of dinoflagelattes, salt water, and nutrients in - they're shipped separately from the tank because they're living organisms - and keep them alive by giving them indirect sunlight during the day.
According to the website, individual dinoflagellates divide every seven to 14 days. "With proper care, the culture of dinoflagellates can live on nothing but indirect sunlight for one to three months," they say. "To maintain a healthy dinoflagellate culture, you can continue to add Dino Food to your Dino Pet as needed."
And sorry everyone, but the Dino Pet is only available in the States at this stage. 🙁
Oh and in case anyone's wondering if you can drink your dinoflagellates… Wtf. From the manufacturers: "Do not drink from your Dino Pet. The dinoflagellates are nontoxic, but they live in salt water, which will probably upset your stomach. Plus, come on, man!"
Our thoughts exactly.