Noctiluca scintillans

General Dinoflagellate
Shape Kidney or balloon-shaped
Size Width 200 - 2000 μm
Colour None (clear)
Connection None (solitary)
Covering None Close


(dinoflagellates) Describes a cell without a theca, i.e., without cellulose walls (Hoppenrath and Saldarriaga 2010).



(plural: flagella) A tail-like projection that sticks out from the cell body and enables movement.

One Close

Transverse flagellum

In dinoflagellates, one of the two flagella they possess; responsible for the rotation of the cell around its length axis. The two flagella are directed parallel to one another and together, the rotational components result in a helical swimming path (Fenchel 2001).



An organelle in the cell that contains the cell pigments (Horner 2002). This is where photosynthesis occurs. A chloroplast is a specialized chromatophore.

Lifestyle Close


An organism that cannot convert inorganic carbon into a usable energy source. Instead, it consumes other organisms to obtain organic carbon for growth.

, Close


Describing an organism that feeds by engulfing its food items. Once surrounded, a food particle is then ingested inside a vacuole. Many flagellates are phagotrophs.

. Sexual/asexual


A rapid increase or accumulation of algal populations in an aquatic system. This will likely involve one or a few dominant phytoplankton species. This follows seasonal patterns (i.e., spring, summer or fall bloom) with dominant species being those that are best adapted to the environmental conditions of that time period. Discolouration of the water may be observed because of the algae's pigmentation. Blooms are often green but may be yellow-brown or red depending on the species present.

Bioluminescent, forms red tides
Harmful effects Produces toxic levels of ammonium
Habitat Coastal
Geographic Close


Widely distributed; occurring in many parts in the world.

in cold to waters
Seasonal Spring to summer
Growth Conditions


The dissolved ion content of a body of water. Can be measured in the following units: parts per thousand (PPT or ‰), practical salinity units (PSU), and absolute salinity (g/kg). PPT is measured by weight, denoting the number of parts salt per thousand total parts or a value of 10-3. PSU measures the conductivity of saltwater and compares it in a ratio to a standard KCl solution (because this is a ratio, salinity measured in this way can also be written without units). The newest unit of salinity is absolute salinity, which uses the mass fraction of salt in seawater (g salt per kg seawater) rather than its conductivity (TEOS-20 2010).

17 - 35
Temperature > 5 °C


Medusa marina Slabber 1771
Medusa scintillans Macartney 1810
Noctiluca miliaris Suriray 1816
Mammaria scintillans Ehrenberg 1834
Noctiluca marina Ehrenberg 1834
(Kraberg et al. 2010)


Empire Eukaryota
Kingdom Protozoa
Subkingdom Biciliata
Infrakingdom Alveolata
Phylum Myzozoa
Subphylum Dinoflagellata
Class Dinophyceae
Order Noctilucales
Family Noctilucaceae
Genus Noctiluca
Species N. scintillans (Macartney) Kofoid and Swezy 1921

(Guiry and Guiry 2012)


Noctiluca scintillans is an athecate heterotrophic dinoflagellate that feeds by phagotrophy (Kraberg et al. 2010). It reproduces sexually by formation of Close


The simplest type of sexual reproduction between gametes that are similar in size and shape. Instead of being classified as male and female cells, organisms of different mating types (i.e., different size and shape of gamete) can fuse to form a zygote (Botany Dictionary 2002).

and asexually through Close

Binary fission

A form of asexual reproduction where one cell divides into two identical cells. All prokaryotes and some eukaryotes reproduce in this manner. Compare with mitosis, where the nucleus must also divide, adding an extra step to the process.

binary fission
(Kraberg et al. 2010).


Noctiluca scintillans is a very large, kidney or balloon-shaped cell. The cell's Close


In naked dinoflagellates, the anterior part of a dinokont cell above the cingulum. The equivalent of an epitheca for thecate dinoflagellates.

and Close


In naked dinoflagellates, the posterior part of a dinokont cell above the cingulum. The equivalent of a hypotheca for thecate dinoflagellates.

are not differentiated (Kraberg et al. 2010). It has only one transverse flagellum and one striated tentacle (Horner 2002). It does not Close


The chemical process by which light energy, water and carbon dioxide are combined to produce oxygen and organic compounds. Photoautotrophic organisms (plants and algae) use this reaction to produce their own food.

, so it does not have chloroplasts. It has a phagotrophic food Close


A membrane-bound organelle found in some protists, containing a water solution of organic and inorganic molecules (including enzymes). In some cases, vacuoles may contain engulfed solids (Falkowski et al. 2004).

that often contains prey organisms, such as diatoms and ciliates (Horner 2002). The vegetative cells are Close



with gymnodinioid Close


A reproductive cell (sperm or ovum) that can combine with another reproductive cell to create a new individual.

(Horner 2002, Kraberg et al. 2010).


Diameter: 200 - 2000 μm

Similar species


Harmful effects

Blooms are believed to produce high concentrations of ammonium, which may be toxic to fish (Horner 2002). Blooms have also been associated with mortality events in many marine invertebrates (Smithsonian 2012). Although, it does not produce toxins, it is registered as a harmful algal species Close

Harmful Algae Bloom

(HAB) The rapid growth and/or accumulation of algae in areas of constricted flow which may be harmful to the environment, animals, plants or humans by depleting oxygen, obstructing sunlight, and (in some cases) releasing toxins (Heisler et al. 2008).

) because of its ability to produce toxic concentrations of ammonium, deplete oxygen levels in the water and clog other organisms' gills (Escalera et al. 2007).


Noctiluca scintillans is a coastal species (Smithsonian 2012).


It is distributed worldwide in cold to warm coastal waters (Horner 2002).
Large blooms are commonly seen from spring to early summer in Helgoland off northern Germany (Smithsonian 2012). A small peak abundance was also observed in Helgoland from December to January (Uhlig and Sahling 1990).

Growth conditions

Uhlig and Sahling (1990) discovered that in the summer, when Helgoland receives 24 hours of daylight, cells are damaged and their growth is inhibited. Cell reproduction starts in the spring when water temperatures are above 5 °C (Uhlig and Sahling 1990).

Environmental Ranges

Depth range (m): 0 - 172
Temperature range (°C): 8.413 - 24.625
Nitrate (μmol L-1): 0.044 - 8.908
Salinity: 17.095 - 35.840
Oxygen (mL L-1): 0.516 - 6.874
Phosphate (μmol L-1): 0.128 - 1.682

Silicic acid

A general term to describe chemical compounds containing silicon, oxygen and hydrogen with a general formula of [SiOx(OH)4-2x]n. Diatoms polymerize silicic acid into biogenic silica to form their frustules (Azam and Chisholm 1976).

(μmol L-1): 0.648 - 77.938
(EOL 2012)

Bloom characteristics

Blooms are bioluminescent and colour the water bright red (Smithsonian 2012). Higher temperatures in summer encourage cell growth, but permanent light inhibits cell growth. N. scintillans blooms in the spring as water temperature increases, but the bloom crashes in late July as days get longer (Uhlig and Sahling 1990).


Encylopedia of Life (EOL). 2012. Noctiluca scintillans (Macartney) Kofoid and Swezy 1921. Accessed 29 Feb 2012.

Escalera, L., Pazos, Y., Moroño, A. and Reguera, B. 2007. Noctiluca scintillans may act as a vector of toxigenic microalgae. Harmful Algae. 6(3): 317-320.

Guiry, M. D. and Guiry, G. M. 2012. Noctiluca scintillans (Macartney) Kofoid and Swezy 1921. Accessed 29 Feb 2012.

Horner, R. A. 2002. A Taxonomic Guide To Some Common Phytoplankton. Biopress Limited, Dorset Press, Dorchester, UK. 200.

Kraberg, A., Baumann, M. and Durselen, C. D. 2010. Coastal Phytoplankton Photo Guide for Northern European Seas. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, Munchen, Germany. 203.

Smithsonian Institution. 2012. Noctiluca scintillans (Macartney) Kofoid and Swezy 1921. Accessed 29 Feb 2012.

Uhlig, G. and Sahling, G. 1990. Long-term studies on Noctiluca scintillans in the German Bight population dynamics and red tide phenomena 1968-1988. Netherlands Journal of Sea Research. 25(1-2): 101-112.

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