A hungry diamond-shaped Protoperidinium reaches out to consume a much larger plankton cell in the water off Scripps Pier in this image from the Scripps Plankton Camera prototype (SPCP) recently shared by the Jaffe Lab for Underwater Imaging at Scripps Oceanography.
“Over the past month, the SPCP has been a dinner guest for a Protoperidinium feast!" the team described in a post on the camera website. "These small dinoflagellates have some fascinating table manners. Rather than ingesting their prey, they eat their food extracellularly. A hungry Protoperidinium will chemically sense a near-by cell and envelop it in a sticky sheet called a pallium or feeding veil.
“Once the prey is captured, the Protoperidinium secretes a digestive enzyme into the sac. The predator breaks down the innards of the prey and ingests the bits. Finally, the Protoperidinium retracts the veil, leaving behind any material it could not digest. In lab studies, the whole process takes about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the prey (though one observed feeding took nearly two hours). According to a 1984 study by Gaines and Taylor, Protoperidinium can capture cells up to 10 times its diameter! That would be kind of like seeing a 6-foot-tall man eating a 60-foot-long burrito.”
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