They're small. They don't make noise. They don't need to be fed. You can leave them unattended for weeks and they (probably) won't die. And your tutor likely won't care that you're harboring them illicitly in your room.
So while they won't cuddle with you at night, bioluminescent dinoflagellates can make pretty convenient pets.
These single-celled organisms were handed out free during the Harvard Museum of Natural History's "Night at the Museum," hosted by the Harvard Undergraduate Biological Sciences Society on Friday night.
Why bioluminescent dinoflagellates? "They're extremely fascinating, it's close to Halloween, and they demonstrate key biological phenomena," said HUBSS President S. John Liu '11. They proved popular, as the 60 available 50 mL flasks of dinoflagellates were handed out within the first five minutes of the event.
The dinoflagellates grow in seawater and are photosynthetic, so if kept in direct sunlight they could theoretically live and reproduce forever—and according to Liu, they should live "a couple of months, no problem."
Perhaps the coolest feature of the dinoflagellates is the "bioluminescent" part: they're mechanically responsive, so if you shake them while in a dark room you can see them start to glow a greenish color. But don't overdo it—"If you shake them too much, they'll stop glowing," said Liu.
The organizers were kind enough to give us the demonstration flask at the end of the night. We obviously won't be able to name all of our new pets, but we're going to see how long we can keep them growing—and glowing.