Teach Outside
Resources and inspiration for current and aspiring outdoor educators and those interested in a natural learning environment.

Bioluminescent Dinoflagellates


bioluminescent Dinoflagellates

Bioluminescent dinoflagellates are photosynthetic single-celled organisms. They live in slightly diluted sea water. Two to four hours after dark they will illuminate when disturbed with a beautiful and intense blue light. I received a colony from BioCurious in Sunnyvale, CA, where they have held open meetings to all interested in bioluminescence on Monday evenings. When I visited, the group was working on optimizing media for the dinoflagellates, as they don't fix their own nitrogen. A variety of fertilizers were being tried.

From BioCurious lab notebook, undated:

DIY Dino Media

7 bottles

150mL salt water

+50mL dino culture ("L" culture from bucket)


2 drops Micro Algae Grow

(1 drop of water ~50uL, 2 drops ~100uL)


MiracleGro Liquid Houseplant Food

(MG1: 75uL, MG2: 150uL)


MiracleGro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food

(AP1: 75uL, AP2: 150uL)

1g in 200mL


Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-H

2Tbsp./Gal. = 30mL, 7.5mL/L

750uL in 100mL H2O

(FF1: 75uL, FF2: 150uL)

I was allowed to take home a culture of bioluminescent dinoflagellates in a container I provided. I left the lid loose for aeration. At night in the dark when I swirled the clear glass bottle the dinoflagellates lit up in a beautiful blue hue. They died shortly thereafter and I discarded the solution after adding bleach to kill any remaining organisms.

Lab notebook idea by Heather Taylor, teachoutside@gmail.com with major input from BioCurious. You are welcome to share all materials with credit to them.