That’s the question jellyfish researcher (yes, there is such a thing) Rebecca Helm asked when she first caught a glimpse of something bright blue flickering in the corner of her eye…but when she turned to look, it was gone. She might have dismissed it as a hallucination, except that it kept happening, and when she investigated, she finally found the culprit: a marine organism she’s dubbed a “sea sapphire” in honor of its brilliant blue color.
What exactly is a sea sapphire, other than something seriously cool, weird and beautiful? It’s a copepod (related to shrimp) with a distinctive translucent shell. Layers of crystals inside the shell perfectly reflect blue when the light hits them, and when they shift position, the flash is gone again. The flashy color helps the ladies spot them (always useful).
Copepods have been around a very long time, so apparently the bright blue flash isn’t a serious evolutionary problem — with their large numbers, even if they do experience significant predation, they have enough to survive.
The translucence of the shell offers another nifty feature: that psychedelic blue also lights up all their internal organs, offering a sort of x-ray view of the insides of their bodies. Maybe not quite to everyone’s tastes, but it still offers a fascinating look into the inner workings of these amazing critters.
Sapphirina copepods, as they’re more formally known, are found all over the world in varying numbers, and they’re a rare sight at sea. Helm was lucky to get a chance to see one, and we’re lucky to have a beautiful video to watch so we can get a glimpse secondhand! These stunning creatures drift through the water column in the hopes that they’ll hook up with some lady sea sapphire cuties (who live parasitically in jellyfish) to spread the species around a little.
These glorious creatures are a reminder that you never know what you’re going to find in the ocean, and that there’s a whole lot more below the surface that we haven’t even discovered or fully begun to understand yet. That’s why marine conservation is so critical — without the hard work of naturalists, researchers and environmentalists, we’d be losing precious and fascinating organisms like this one, perhaps before anyone ever even had a chance to see them and share with us.