Dinoflagellate Care - Best Practices

BioPop propagates a species of dinoflagellate classified as Pyrocystis fusiformis. BioPop is the dinoflagellate authority when it comes to growth and production of this species. To date, BioPop has grown well over 30,000 liters of dinoflagellates in our facility in Carlsbad, CA. This translates to roughly 9 trillion individual dinoflagellate cells.

Biopop is committed to providing comprehensive information on dinoflagellate care. Oftentimes we need to condense and simplify this information so it does not overwhelm the average Dino Pet owner. This segment is for the Dino Pet owner who wants to dive into the details. 

To put simply, dinoflagellates are ‘algae-like’ plant cells that live in a saltwater environment. To put less simply, these dinoflagellates are autotrophic marine phytoplankton, meaning they employ self-nourishment by using inorganic materials as a source of nutrients and photosynthesis as a source of energy. Dinoflagellates live and survive mostly on light.

bioluminescent dinoflagellates

Environment

BioPop grows dinoflagellates in purified seawater that has been supplemented with small amounts of micronutrients. These micronutrients are already present in seawater and BioPop is only elevating some the molecules that are depleted during dinoflagellate growth. This supplemented seawater is also sold as ‘Dino Food’. BioPop does not recommend using raw seawater or reconstituted seawater with these dinoflagellate cultures.

Lighting

All of BioPop’s dinoflagellates are grown (cultured) under artificial light. BioPop does not yet employ filtered sunlight as a light source, although this could also be used. The performance of fluorescent and LED is similar in terms of growth, however LEDs generate less heat as a byproduct. Excess heat can be detrimental to the dinoflagellate culture. LEDs also consume less energy therefore making them more cost effective.

Home or office lighting conditions may vary but placing the Dino Pet or Dino Sphere about 4- 6 feet away from a single 60w light source is ideal.

BioPop recommends not putting a Dino Pet or Dino Sphere in direct sunlight due to the elevated water temperatures that can be generated. Harm could also come from unfiltered UV light that is usually diminished by seawater refraction.  This is why seawater appears blue and is also the inspiration for our Dino Pet Blue and Blue Dino Sphere seawater. While this has not been tested, BioPop believes that the blue water does lend some beneficial attributes by refracting some UV light.

Lighting during periods of hot temperatures should be lower than normal. Dinoflagellates are very efficient at photosynthesis (converting light to chemical energy). Low light rooms are generally better for the health of dinoflagellates than very well lit rooms. This is counterintuitive for some Dino Pet owners who feel they need to saturate the Dino Pet with light for it to grow.

Ideally dinoflagellates should get 10-14 hours of moderate light and 10-14 hours of relative darkness every 24 hours, at the same time every day. Consistency of day/night cycle is more important than duration (hours/day) of light. Using the natural light (indirect/reflective) with the natural timing of sunrise and sunset to set your dinoflagellate cycles is a good way to establish consistency.

If you can provide light cycle consistency the dinoflagellates will be luminescent whenever they are in their "night phase" and they will be non-luminescent when they are in their "day phase".   If you have access to a grow light or an aquarium/terrarium light and a timer, you can control when dinoflagellates get their photosynthetic light.

Short periods (less than an hour) of light during the night and short periods of darkness during the day will not hurt the Dino Pet. Read our blog post Light Cycles to learn more about lighting.  

Darkness

Short periods of light, low filtered light (street light through the window), and other forms of light contamination at night are not harmful. Please do not overcompensate by trying to keep your Dino Pet in a completely dark area.

BioPop does not recommend moving the Dino Pet to a dark location (closet/drawer) at night. Unless you are a programmable robot that never forgets anything, moving your Dino Pet only increases the possibility of leaving it in the dark for extended periods- which is more harmful than some low ambient light during night time hours. Consistency of day/night cycles is more important than amount of light or darkness.

bioluminescent dinoflagellates

Feeding

Let us start by saying that Dino Food is to dinoflagellates as Plant Food is to plants. If you fail to feed a potted plant it will not suddenly die but instead, over time, will suffer nutrient deficiencies that will slow its growth, which eventually could contribute to the plant’s death.  You can overfeed a plant and you can overfeed a Dino Pet. Do not overfeed. 

In fact BioPop has had Dino Pets live for several months with nothing more than low to moderate lighting. However these Dino Pets were not as healthy, and their bioluminescent performance was limited.  

Feeding the Dino Pet is beneficial in more ways than just adding nutrients. Small weekly feedings allow for air exchange of this closed system. New Dino Food also contains fresh CO2 for photosynthesis. This fresh CO2 comes in the form of soluble CO2 gas, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate and carbonic acid. All these molecules buffer the system and contribute to the CO2 in the Dino Pet environment.   

Weekly feedings were tested in-house against bi-weekly and monthly feedings. No feeding was also used as a control. After three months the ‘weekly feeding’ Dino Pets yielded healthier and more abundant populations of dinoflagellates compared to the other feeding groups. All feeding groups did survive the three-month test.

BioPop recommends feeding a Dino Pet roughly 50ml (3.3 tablespoons) once every week. (Please don’t use an actual tablespoon unless it is clean and free of contaminates. Dish soap residue is enough to kill a Dino Pet). One pouch of Dino Food is 220ml, which is about 4 feedings. Feeding amounts do not need to be exactly measured. Please don’t compromise your Dino Pet’s health with contaminates by trying to be exact on the amount of Dino Food.

Dino Food can be purchased in multiple packs and stored in a cool dry location for up to 6 months. Dino Food can be stored even longer in a refrigerator. Please be sure to bring Dino Food to room temperature before adding to Dino Pet.

Temperature

Ideal temperature for the Dino Pet is 69F (20.5C). Ideal temperature range is 63F to 79F (17C – 26C). This does not mean that a Dino Pet in a cold or hot environment will immediately perish. Hot and cold periods beyond the ideal range can be tolerated if the temperature changes are gradual and light conditions are complimentary. During periods of hot temperatures, low lighting should be employed. Dinos can tolerate colder conditions without much change to lighting. The important consideration is to avoid rapid temperature fluctuations.

Dino Pet First Aid

Bioluminescence is a good indicator of health. If your Dino Pet appears dimmer at night and not producing the light it once was –DO NOT FEED. Stop all feedings and put Dino Pet in a low light location.

Make sure location allows for steady and consistent day/night cycles.  

If possible use a light timer to control the duration of light during the day. Leave your Dino Pet in a consistent day/night cycle (without moving its location) for several days.

You may also invert your Dino Pet and open its belly cap once a day to allow for better air exchange. Opening the belly cap for a few minutes will help equilibrate your Dino Pet.  

After 3- 4 days check for bioluminescence later in the evening (during night time cycle). Invert the Dino Pet in a completely dark room (at night) to check for bioluminescence.    

Dino First Aid Summary

  • Stop Feeding
  • Move to Low Light location
  • Ensure consistent day/night cycles (do not move)
  • Open belly cap daily

Other Considerations - Bioluminescence

To optimally view bioluminescence, make sure that the Dino Pet is well into its night time cycle. The longer into the night time cycle the more light the Dino Pet will produce.   If possible, view the Dino Pet in a room that is almost or completely dark. Small amounts of background light can diminish the viewing of this natural light.

Gentle but exaggerated inverting of the Dino Pet back and forth (nose to ground and then tilt the nose up to the sky) is the best method for agitation and production of bioluminescence. Tapping the Dino Pet’s legs gently against table or hard surface can produce interesting luminescent patterns. Turning the Dino Pet end over end is a good way to get the most out of its light show. Rapid ‘back and forth’ shaking, while not harmful, will not produce productive agitation. Play with the Dino Pet to see what types of interactions provide the best light show.

bioluminescent dinoflagellates

Note: A full Dino Pet may not produce as much light as partially empty Dino Pet. The negative air space in the Dino Pet’s head can greatly enhance light production when inverted. How full to fill your Dino Pet is up to you but this may be one consideration.    

Sounds waves and vibrations can also trigger bioluminescence. BioPop encourages home experiments to discover new ways to agitate the Dino Pet for interesting light displays. Be sure to send us your results.

Comments

Leave a comment

Beautiful art through Biology for the Popular Culture.