These Glowing Arctic Sea Creatures Look Like ‘Blue Christmas Lights’ in the Snow

by Matthew Memrick

Glowing Arctic sea creatures appeared in the Arctic Circle area of Russia, and they look like blue Christmas lights in the night.

And just like that, that long-played Elvis Presley song about having a blue Christmas just re-entered my head after weeks of hearing it. 

According to National Geographic, tiny glowing animals called copepods found their way to snow near a remote field station, and it’s the first documented sighting in the world in that spot. 

Blue Lights In Russia

With a teen and some dogs, biologist Vera Emelianenko discovered washed-up plankton that started to glow when they stepped on them. The group saw the snow light up with a blue tint amid the Arctic winds in the White Sea.

Their shoe (and paw prints) created the glowing blue snow.

“They were like blue Christmas lights in the snow,” the 24-year-old said.

Emelianenko grabbed at a few, and they glowed brighter. Soon after, the woman reached out to station biologists and marine scientists and created a buzz. The 80-year-old station’s crew went back and took more photos for a couple of hours, stirring up the snow and creating a unique blue picture.

Emelianenko continued to study the snow and found the copepods in her petri dish. When she stirred them up, they returned to that faint blue color.

Why is this notable, you may ask? This phenomenon happens in the Arctic without explanation, but no one has taken their observations and tested them to determine what made the glow.

Copepod Life History 

A quick summary on copepods. According to marine biologist Steven Haddock, these tiny crustaceans are called “the bugs of the sea.” If you took several grains of sand and put them together, you’d have the size of one. Other animals quickly eat them and go where the current takes them.

This glowing kind is in Canada’s Hudson Strait, parts of Maine, and all over the Arctic. They are not common in the White Sea.

So, some scientists think they came in with rising tides. According to the Russian station, waves were pretty strong on Dec. 1 and Dec. 15 (the day of the discovery). While these occurrences happen only annually, maybe they’re frequent now.

The copepods produce a luciferin molecule that could mix with an enzyme and cause a dramatic burst of light.

According to UC Santa Barbara professor Todd Oakley, maybe the glow is a defense mechanism. Oakley thinks they could startle or distract predators. If the luciferin is still there, they’re going to keep glowing for a while.

Arctic University of Norway professor Jørgen Berge is not ready to credit the copepods for the glowing, having observed the light show in Norway. He thinks single-celled algae may be the source. But he has no proven facts and says the light may be too bright for the algae to make.

But just think, a late-night December walk produced a discovery of epic proportions. The freezing area gets bears and wolves. But the risk proved to have its reward.