Scientists Say: Zooplankton

These are tiny, floating predators of the sea


These brilliant beings are all different types of zooplankton, tiny animals that float in the sea.

Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC/Wikimedia Commons

Zooplankton (noun, “Zoh-uh-PLANK-ton”)

These are a type of plankton — tiny organisms that drift freely in the sea. These critters can be so tiny you need a microscope to see them up to about the size of a flea. Some zooplankton remain that tiny forever. Others are the baby version of species that grow up to become larger animals, such as fish or crabs. 

Some plankton — called phytoplankton — are plant-like. They produce energy from the sun. But zooplankton are predators. They prey on phytoplankton and on other, smaller zooplankton. But these tiny, fearsome hunters are hunted themselves. Zooplankton are part of a balanced diet for many fish, birds and whales.

In a sentence

In the Arctic, some zooplankton prefer their food chilled and dine on sea-ice algae.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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