One of my favourite things about science fiction and fantasy (besides lightsabers) is the fantastical fauna. And if you're a fan, I'll bet you find yourself wishing for a portal in a wardrobe, or a warp to another planet, to see all those crazy fictional creatures firsthand. It turns out, however, that we have plenty of them in our own backyard... 


Sapphirina, also known as sea sapphires, are a great example of the wildly strange life forms you would never guess exist on this planet. Small crustaceans (copepods) are found both in the ocean and in nearly every freshwater habitat, but what separates this genus from others is an explosion of beautiful, shimmering colour, ranging from gold to blue and everything in between.

How that colour arises, however, is cooler still.

Contrary to what your eyes are telling you, these animals are completely translucent – that's why they seem to disappear between flashes. But the males have a neat trick up their sleeves called structural colouration. 

Male Sapphirina, like the one you see in the video, have microscopic layers of crystals in their cells that reflect light. The cells are separated by unbelievably small distances – so tiny, in fact, that they’re only as long as particular wavelengths of light. When white light (made up of all colours) hits the cells, any colour that doesn’t fit is scrambled, while the ones with the matching wavelength are reflected. This results in the beautiful, vibrant colours you see. 

While we don’t know for sure, scientists believe that like peacocks' bold feathers (another example of structural colouration), this is a way for the males to stand out amongst rivals and impress the ladies in hopes of attracting a mate.

So, as much as I would love to see a rancor or ride on the back of a griffin, I suppose I’ll have to settle for real life. Luckily for me, sometimes real life can be stranger, and cooler, than fiction.