FAQs for Mushlume UFO™

What are dinoflagellates?

The dinoflagellates used in the Mushlume UFO are a species of marine plankton that have the ability to bioluminesce in response to mechanical stimulation, such as swirling and crashing waves. If you want to get all Science-y about it, they are unicellular protists of the division Dinoflagellata and of the species Pyrocystis fusiformis.

Bioluminescent Dinoflagellates Photosynthesis

bioluminescent dinoflagellate cells

These dinoflagellates have chloroplasts and photosynthesize, just like plants do during the day. In fact, dinoflagellates are a small fraction of a larger population of phytoplankton that produce more than half the oxygen on Earth — more than all the grass, trees, forests and rainforests combined.

Learn more from Sheldon J. Plankton and SpongeBob...


What is the life expectancy of the Mushlume UFO?

With proper care, your Mushlume UFO™ can live for a year or more. The lifespan of the dinoflagellates will vary based on their exposure to light, external temperatures and how quickly they require new nutrients to be supplemented. Typically, dinoflagellates in the Mushlume UFO will live for approximately 2-3 months on nothing but a little indirect sunlight (partial sunlight or artificial room light (no direct sunlight)). In order to keep the dinoflagellates healthy, simply add a little bit of VitaminSea™ to the Mushlume UFO periodically and you can extend their life, forever… Seriously, by regularly adding VitaminSea, the dinos can potentially reproduce indefinitely. 

If your dino culture crashes over time, you can purchase refills of the dinoflagellates for your Mushlume UFO from Urbz (now available with zero guilt trips!). 

Note: Urbz guarantees that your dinoflagellates will arrive alive and healthy. If the dinos are not alive upon arrival, we will issue a replacement order, free of charge. Please contact us immediately, and we will process the new dino shipment right away.


When is the best time to see bioluminescence in San Diego / Southern California?

Bioluminescence occurs in the ocean every day but unless you are a diver, you rarely get to experience this magical phenomenon on a regular basis in the ocean. The red tides or plankton blooms that cause bioluminescent waves along Southern California coastlines occur typically in the Spring and late Summer months. However, the timing of red tides is unpredictable and not all of them result in bioluminescence.

In San Diego, the organism responsible for the glowing blue waves is a species of marine plankton, or dinoflagellate called Lingulodinium polyedra. Scientists speculate that blooms of L. polyedra occur when there is an upwelling of nutrients from the sea floor (from a storm or currents) and the temperature of the water rises to create perfect conditions for the dinoflagellates to rapidly divide (a.k.a. bloom).

Lucky for you, some bioluminescence is predictable. You can enjoy the beautiful blue glow of bioluminescent dinoflagellates night after night from the comfort of your living room with the Mushlume UFO!

Note: the dinoflagellates in the Mushlume UFO are of the species Pyrocystis fusiformis. P. fusiformis is non-toxic unlike some other species of dinoflagellates.

Bioluminescence in San Diego California


What is the Mushlume UFO made of? PET? Glass?

The Mushlume UFO is made from an ABS plastic. 


Will you explain the light / dark cycle of dinoflagellates?

So it works like this: much like plants that produce vegetables, dino’s harness the sun’s energy and convert it into chemical energy through good ol’ photosynthesis. Instead of using the chemical energy to produce delicious foodstuffs, however, dinos use it to produce light through bioluminescence. Because the dinos have a circadian rhythm based on light and dark cycles, this bioluminescence is only visible at night.


What is circadian rhythm and what does it have to do with dinoflagellates?

Like humans, dinoflagellates follow a roughly 24-hour circadian cycle (internal biological clock) triggered by phases of sunlight (or artificial light). Dinos need roughly 12 hours of constant light and 12 hours of consistent dark each day. Unlike humans who may find ways to mask their irritability, sleepiness, or lack of concentration, dinoflagellates are very direct about their inability to perform when their schedule is out of whack: They simply won’t glow the same (and they definitely won’t glow outside of their night phase). It is possible for the dinoflagellates to adjust to a different light/dark schedule but it can take a few days to a few weeks for them to fully adjust. Think of it like jet lag for dinos.

Sunset and Moonrise Bioluminescent Plankton Circadian Rhythm

Urbz dinoflagellates are raised in San Diego, California They wake up at 5 am and it's lights out around 5 pm PT. This is the routine they’re used to. This routine can be changed, but you have to be aware of the routine they’ve been on and be patient while they adapt to their new environment and schedule.

Learn more about circadian rhythm and other cool science concepts on our 👉 Edu-tainment page


Why do dinoflagellates bioluminesce?

Great question! Let’s talk about “The Burglar Alarm Theory” — Being at the bottom of the food chain stinks. Many scientists believe that P. fusiformis combats this unfortunate food chain placement by emitting light when they’re disturbed by predators. The bioluminescence acts as a Bat Signal of sorts, spotlighting the attacker so any bigger-badder creatures in the area can swoop in for the save. 

 Bat signal Burglar Alarm Theory

Are dinoflagellates good “pets” for kids?

Do you think traditional pets are too dangerous, too messy, or too much responsibility for your little one? If you said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any of those things, then dinoflagellates are perfect for you. They’re completely non-toxic, require minimal care, and don’t even poop! The Mushlume UFO and dinoflagellates are the perfect entry-level “pet” to teach kids responsibility without having to worry about the crushing burden falling back on you. (Note: the Mushlume UFO isn’t a toy. It’s a living aquarium).


Does this make a good present?

We’re pretty sure you’re pulling our leg, but in case this is a serious question… of course it makes a great present! The Mushlume UFO is easy to care for, unique, and affordable. Plus, do you know anyone who has living, glowing spacecraft?

We recommend selecting the "Gift Option" when purchasing the Mushlume UFO as a present. Learn more on our shipping page.


Do I have to find a dinositter if I go on vacation?

Even though the creation of a whole new industry would be of great help to the economy, your Mushlume UFO will do just fine on its own. Just make sure to leave it in a partially sunlit room out of direct sunlight.


Where do the Urbz dinoflagellates come from? 

Our original dinoflagellates came from a vial full of Pacific Ocean sea water. The dinoflagellate cells were isolated from the thousands of other critters in the water. It took a lot of patience but eventually the dinos did their thing (asexual division) and one cell became two, two cells became four, et cetera, et cetera.

Today, we grow these dinoflagellates in our own aqua farm from those progenitor cells. We add sterilized sea water and nutrients (a.k.a. VitaminSea™) to keep the dinos alive and dividing.


How long do the dinoflagellates bioluminesce after swirling?

Dinoflagellates need continuous motion to maintain an intense glow, but the show doesn’t end when the swirling stops. Before the dinos have a chance to settle, they will continue to move through the water lighting up as they bounce off of one another making for a light show similar to a meteor shower.

If you constantly swirl the Mushlume UFO™, the dinos will only stay intensely bioluminescent for a few minutes. But if you let them rest for an hour or two in between swirls, they'll get their glow back later in the night. The reason for this is the dinos produce light emitting molecules (luciferin and luciferase) during their night time phase. Once these molecules are all used up from swirling, the glow diminishes. However, the dinos continue making these molecules throughout their night time phase. If you let them sit undisturbed for several hours, they'll build up more luciferin and luciferase to reignite the show when you're ready to shake, shake, shake.

Taylor Swift Shake It Off


How are the Mushlume UFOs shipped?

Urbz ships products that include living dinoflagellates via an expedited delivery service (UPS or USPS Priority Mail). This is particularly vital to the health of the dinoflagellates when shipping to extremely warm or cold destinations.


What happens if I drink the dinos?

You will magically be transformed into a Stomachsore-us Rex! While we recommend that you do not drink the dinoflagellates because they live in salt water that will probably give you a tummy ache, the Pyrocystis fusiformis species of dinoflagellates we use are nontoxic and completely safe for children (and dogs, cats, birds, fish, and other pets you might have).


How do I care for dinoflagellates?

It’s way easier than caring for yourself, we promise. All you have to do is leave the dinos in a partially sunlit room during the day, making sure to keep them out of direct sunlight. Don’t worry Seattleites, if you don’t have any sunlit rooms to speak of you can simply leave them under a low-wattage bulb for 10 to 12 hours a day. If you want your dinos to live a long and happy life, keep them in a room that stays between 60°-80° Fahrenheit (17°-25° C). (Don’t forget: this is all spelled out in the detailed Care Manual included with each Mushlume UFO).


How fast do these dinos grow?

Dinos don’t really grow, but they do reproduce. Asexual reproduction to be exact, meaning you don’t have to worry about teaching your youngsters about the birds and the bees… yet. The rate at which they reproduce is entirely dependent on the amount of available light, dark, and nutrients. You’ll be in charge of making sure the dinos get enough playtime in the light and sleep in the dark, but Urbz sells the VitaminSea to make sure your dinos are flush with nutrients to extend their life.


Can I put the dinos in my saltwater fish tank?

You can but you won't likely see any bioluminescence. The dinos need to be in high concentration to see their blue light at night. And it's likely they may just be a snack for your fish and/or get caught up in the aquarium's filter.


Can you please explain how this beautiful container works?

While it’s definitely the coolest container you’ve ever handled, it works much like all of the other containers you’ve used in your life. Pour something in, close the lid, and there it shall remain. If your dinos get hungry or need to be replaced, the cap on top of the Mushlume UFO can be unscrewed for easy access.


What happened to BioPop and the Dino Pet?

Dino Pet from BioPop

Dino Pet from BioPop Daytime Image

Andy was a founder and the CEO of BioPop and the creator of the Dino Pet. BioPop was founded in 2013. By 2016, the Dino Pet reached a cult status and was a wildly popular living toy sold in more than 20 countries around the world. Tens of thousands of people became infatuated with dinoflagellates and bioluminescence as a result of the Dino Pet and products like the DinoSphere, a bioluminescent orb the company later made.

In 2017, BioPop received a buyout offer from a publicly traded synthetic biology company, Intrexon. Andy accepted the buyout offer for BioPop and joined Intrexon as Senior Vice President of the Consumer Products Division. Andy applied his creativity and molecular biology skills to design new consumer products using biology. Along the way, Intrexon shifted its strategic focus. As a result, BioPop was shutdown, the Consumer Products Division of Intrexon was eliminated, and Intrexon changed its name to Precigen, which today focuses only on the Health Sector.

The closing of BioPop was a sad day for Andy and the entire BioPop team. On the bright side, it led to the formation of Urbz and the creation of a new bioluminescent sensation! 🛸

Mushlume UFO


Seldom Asked Questions (SAQ):

What happens if my Mushlume UFO tries to abduct me in the middle of the night?

Run! It’s probably too late to do any good, but run anyway.


What is a persimmon?

We’re not experts, but we’re pretty sure its that one tree-fruit that looks like a tiny pumpkin.


Find more information about phytoplankton (aka dinoflagellates) on our 👉 Edu-tainment link.