Plankton Get Drunk and Do Stupid Stuff, Too

Shaunacy Ferro
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Humans aren’t the only creatures that make regrettable mistakes when drunk. Plankton do, too. A new study reports that a common copepod (a tiny crustacean) called Temora longicornis eats toxic algae that change its behavior, resulting in riskier actions.

As reported by National Geographicthe study—published in Proceedings of the Royal Academy Bexamined the behavior of copepods captured off the coast of Maine. In the lab, the plankton consumed toxic Alexandrium fundyense algae. Afterward, they started acting differently. The copepods began to swim much faster and in straight lines, putting them in greater danger of getting spotted by a predator and eaten.

The copepods in the study swam 25 percent faster after eating the algae. The researchers estimate that their altered state made them 25 to 55 percent more likely to get eaten, based on how they were swimming. In other words, the plankton were more likely to put themselves in danger after eating the algae.

A. fundyense is one of the toxic dinoflagellates that make up red tides. During these blooms, this algae makes shellfish unsafe to eat, in addition to making plankton more likely to get eaten.

Plankton aren’t the only creatures in the animal kingdom who start acting differently under the influence. Zebrafish, who get drunk while swimming in ethanol, become more confident.

[h/t National Geographic]