When most individuals “see red”, they are getting angry. When I “see red”, I am getting excited because I probably just spotted red algae (Rhodophyta)!
Unlike the brown algal species described here, red algae contains a pigment called phycoerythin which absorbs blue light and reflects – you guessed it – red light. The more phycoerythin a species has, the redder it appears. What local, Nova Scotian red algae species below do you think has the most phycoerythin?
Not only does the colour differ, but there are other morphological (or the way something looks) differences between these four red algae species. You may have noticed, for example, that Corallina looks hard and articulated whereas Porphya looks soft and sheet-like. Perhaps it was the ooey-gooey, worm-like Nemalion that first caught your eye or the branching Chondrus. Whatever it was, I am sure you’d agree that there is a lot of morphological (there’s that word again) variation between these four species. Now, what would you say if I told you there are more than 6,000 species of red algae?
Although there are morphological differences galore amongst red algae, there are also differences in how species are used by us! Would you believe me if I told you certain Corallina species are dried and used as a bone-forming material? It’s true! Chondrus crispus’s use is equally mind-blowing: did you know that it is harvested and used in Jell-O, ice cream, and vegan gelatin? It’s true! What about Porphya? It’s true that Porhyra is used in sushi! What about Nemalion, did you know it is harvested by aliens to make spaghetti? Okay, maybe that last one isn’t true.
Regardless of what it looks like or what we use it for, I hope that you get excited the next time you “see red”.
Tune in next time for when we explore green algae!