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The most common zooplankton in all the oceans are called copepods. (Photo courtesy of Larry Madin, WHOI)
If ‘plankton’ are the drifters, then ‘zooplankton’ are the animals that drift in the water. They range from nearly-microscopic to centimeters or even meters long. The most common zooplankton in all the oceans are called copepods—little shrimp-like animals that can be nearly microscopic to almost a centimeter long. Most copepods eat small particles, which can be phytoplankton, small zooplankton, or bits of dead material called detritus. Some copepods are predators, mostly on other copepods. They can detect the vibration of swimming prey or the prey’s chemical scent, and track them down for lunch. Like other junior members of food chains, copepods get eaten by bigger animals. Bigger crustaceans, such as krill, hunt and capture them, and the great baleen whales, such as blue whales, also eat copepods, by gulping the water they are in and straining them out.
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