Sea Sapphires: The Vanishing, Hidden Gems of the Sea

by Owen James Burke


Above: The sea sapphire (Sapphrina). Traditionally, a grouping of these creatures are known to Japanese fishermen as tama-mizu, or “jeweled water”. Photo: Stefan Siebert.

These marine copepods may be the genesis of a new generation of optics, if scientists can figure out how, exactly, the hexagonal crystal plates on their backs explode into reds, blues and violets, and then appear to vanish just as suddenly.


.gif from The American Chemical Society’s video (below), via biomorphosis/tumblr.

Sapphirina are a type of marine copepod, aquatic crustaceans that are found in both salt and sweet water, but only the marine males glow, as far as scientists know, and they believe it may have to do with mating or mate recognition.

Of the species studied, at least one gave off a spectacle only when light struck its backplates at exactly 45°, at which point it reflects not visible, but ultraviolet light.

Sapphirina sali

Sapphirina sali leaps across the water. Photo: Solvin Zankl/Flickr.

Watch The American Chemical Society‘s video below:

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Read more at R&D Mag. -OJB

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