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15 Interesting Facts About Zooplankton

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Zooplankton are tiny animals that float and drift in water bodies like oceans, lakes, and ponds. As a key part of aquatic food webs, they provide nourishment for many larger organisms. Here are 15 fascinating facts about these little creatures:

Facts About Zooplankton

  1. The name “zooplankton” comes from the Greek words “zoon” meaning animal, and “planktos” meaning drifter or wanderer. It refers to the way these creatures float around in water currents.
  2. Zooplankton range in size from microscopic organisms to large jellyfish that can be seen with the naked eye. The very smallest zooplankton are protozoans and rotifers only 0.05-0.5 mm long.
  3. Over 7,000 species of zooplankton have been identified so far. New species continue to be discovered through modern DNA analysis. Most zooplankton belong to three major groups: protozoans, rotifers, and crustaceans.
  4. Many zooplankton like copepods and krill are voracious eaters, while others like salps filter feed. Some dinoflagellates even hunt other protozoans for food! Their diverse feeding strategies allow them to occupy varied ecological niches.
  5. Zooplankton play a vital role in marine and freshwater food webs. They convert plant/algae production into protein. Small zooplankton then become food for larger animals like small fish, which in turn feed bigger fish and marine mammals higher up the chain.
  6. Their sheer abundance makes zooplankton a crucial food source sustaining ocean life. Scientists estimate global zooplankton biomass to be over 10 billion metric tons – more than the total weight of the world’s human population!
  7. Swarms of zooplankton migrate from deeper waters to the surface every night. This vertical travel of “marine snow” transports carbon to the oceans’ interior.
  8. Gelatinous zooplankton like jellyfish and comb jellies are taking over ecosystems as oceans warm due to climate change. They thrive better in warmer waters than other zooplankton.
  9. Many larvae of sea creatures like mollusks, fish, corals and sea stars begin life as zooplankton. They later settle down on reefs or the sea floor.
  10. Whales feast on dense patches of tiny zooplankton like krill during summer feeding. An adult blue whale eats up to 8,000 lbs of krill daily to build up fat reserves.
  11. Swarms of bioluminescent dinoflagellates produce magical displays of “glowing” water. When disturbed, these single-celled creatures emit flashes of blue light in the dark.
  12. Copepods have transparent bodies but carry orange pigments in oily droplets. These carotenoids get metabolized into vitamin A to protect their DNA from UV radiation.
  13. To survive cold polar waters, pteropod snails have blood containing “anti-freeze” proteins. These prevent ice crystals from forming that could rupture cell membranes.
  14. Many zooplankton like radiolarians have intricate mineral skeletons made of silica, strontium or calcium. When they die, these skeletons accumulate as sediment on the seafloor.
  15. Rapidly-reproducing zooplankton evolve quickly in response to ocean changes. Scientists study mutations in their genes over generations to monitor evolutionary adaptation.

Zooplankton may be tiny, but they wield big influence over aquatic habitats. Learning about these unsung heroes of our blue planet reveals their surprising roles in ocean ecosystems. Their diversity, abundance and rapid generational turnover make them excellent indicators of environmental change. Further research on zooplankton is crucial for protecting fragile marine food webs in a warming world.

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