Bioluminescent Plankton Care Guide 👾 🔬 🌗

Dinoflagellate Care - How to grow bioluminescent plankton

Setting up your Mushlume UFO:

Maintaining the Dinoflagellate Culture in your Mushlume UFO:

Instructions //

Filling the Mushlume™ UFO: 

Open the Dinoflagellate pouch (provided separately). Use a coin, lucky or otherwise, to unscrew the Mushlume UFO cap and set aside. Place the hole of the Mushlume UFO over the dinoflagellate pouch nozzle. Gently tip the dinoflagellate pouch until all of the contents are poured into the Mushlume UFO. Replace the cap on the Mushlume UFO and tighten using your coin of ambiguous luck.


The Mushlume UFO will only bioluminesce during nighttime hours, in the dark while in motion (swirling). The Mushlume UFO will not light up during the daytime hours, even in a dark room. 

Mushlume UFO bioluminesces at night

The Mushlume UFO will become bioluminescent after being in the dark for about an hour into its nighttime phase (remember, it only glows while swirling).

Fun fact #1: During the day, the dinoflagellates use light to make their own energy through a process called photosynthesis.

Fun fact #2: Dinoflagellates have a circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) just like us human Earthlings. Light influences their circadian rhythm. During their day phase, they photosynthesize and during their night phase are bioluminescent.


Keep your Mushlume UFO in partial sunlight or artificial room light (no direct sunlight, hot light bulbs, or any light source that will heat up the dinoflagellate culture). 

Where to place the Mushlume UFO for proper lighting for the bioluminescent dinoflagellates

Give the Mushlume approximately 12 hours of consistent light and 12 hours of constant dark each day. 

Fun fact #3: It’s possible to change the circadian rhythm of dinoflagellates but they will take time to adjust to their new schedule (2-3 weeks to fully adjust). It’s like when we travel to a different planet time zone and our bodies must adapt to a new bedtime/wake-up schedule. 

Viewing Dinoflagellates at Night

The best time to view dinoflagellates is after at least one hour into their night phase. During the night phase, make sure the dinoflagellates are in a dark area for viewing bioluminescence (the darker the room the better for seeing bright bioluminescence). They will be brightest to your human eyes in complete darkness. Any light source will diminish their glow (this includes light from a phone, nightlights, etc.).

Also, make sure your eyes are adjusted to the darkness. If you walk from a bright room into the dark room where the dinoflagellates are, your eyes may need a few minutes to adjust. Try closing your eyes in the dark room and count to 60. This will cause your rods and cones (photoreceptor cells in your eyes) to adjust to the darker environment and allow your eyes to sense the bioluminescence more intensely.


The ideal temperature for the Mushlume UFO is 68°F (20°C). The temperature can range from 60°F to 80°F (17°C to 25°C) without harming the dinoflagellates. Sudden changes in temperature are not recommended and may be harmful to the dinoflagellates. 


As the dinoflagellates begin to thrive you may notice the liquid in the Mushlume become more turbid and yellowish in color (also brighter in bioluminescence). This is a sign of a healthy culture... 

If a less dense culture is preferred, dilute the dinoflagellates with VitaminSea™. 

Dinoflagellate life span: 

In optimal conditions Urbz® dinoflagellates will divide once every 6½ days (via a process known as cell division where one cell splits into two cells). As the dinoflagellate cells divide and the culture becomes denser, the dinos will need VitaminSea to continue to grow. VitaminSea will give the dinos more water to expand into and the vitamins and minerals in the sea water will nourish the cells. 


Add VitaminSea™ to the Mushlume UFO every 2 to 3 weeks (or more/less frequently depending on your culture's growth). 

When the dinoflagellate culture is healthy and dense, replace ⅓ to ½ the volume of dinoflagellates with VitaminSea. 

Pro tip: Use the pipette included with the Mushlume UFO to place excess dinoflagellates into a clean container (like a water bottle). Use these dinos for an experiment or purchase an extra Mushlume UFO aquarium to spread the spores of nerdy fun with a friend. 

Maintaining bioluminescent dinoflagellates and adding nutrients

You may fill the Mushlume UFO to the top of the aquarium or remove dinoflagellates to maintain a half-full aquarium when adding VitaminSea. The benefit of keeping the aquarium half full is that there is more surface area for air exchange and there is more space to swirl dinoflagellates (resulting in brighter bioluminescence). However, either option or somewhere in between works just fine. Experiment to find your preference.


If the dinoflagellates stop bioluminescing the culture may have crashed and will need to be replaced. Replacement dinoflagellate pouches are available here. The Mushlume UFO vessel can be cleaned and re-used. 

We guarantee that your dinoflagellates will arrive alive and healthy. Please contact us if you need support.


Pyrocystis fusiformis dinoflagellates are able to modulate their buoyancy throughout their life span. Depending on their needs and stage of life cycle, they may be positively or negatively buoyant.

 Dinoflagellates modulate their buoyancy

When dinoflagellates are dividing, the cells become heavier and descend the water column. Likewise, if they are seeking nutrients that are not present near the water surface, they will become negatively buoyant. During photosynthesis, the dinos tend to be positively buoyant and hang out near the surface. Dinos aggregating near the surface is a sign of a healthy culture. In the Mushlume UFO, the dinos tend to form a meniscus, or ring, at the surface of the water. 

Learn more interesting facts about dinoflagellates on our 👉 Edu-tainment page 👈