Aquatic drifters

Plankton aren’t a particular kind of plant or animal—rather, “plankton” is a category for organisms that aren’t capable of swimming against a current. In fact, the word plankton comes from the Greek word “planktos,” which means “wanderer” or “drifter.”


Plant, animal and more

Plankton are generally divided into three groups: phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacterioplankton. Phytoplankton are plants; they live near the water’s surface where there’s enough light to support photosynthesis. Zooplankton are animals; sometimes the eggs or larvae of larger animals. And bacterioplankton are, simply, bacteria: one-celled organisms that live their whole lives as plankton.


From very tiny to very big

Some species of plankton are microscopic. Others are easily visible to the naked eye. And others are hard to miss, such as jellyfish! It’s true: jellyfish are plankton, unable to swim against a current. The largest known species of jellyfish is the lion’s mane, and the largest recorded specimen had a bell (or body) that was seven feet across and tentacles that were 120 feet long!

Plankton FAQs
Where do plankton live?
If plankton are the foundation of the food chain, what do they eat?
What eats plankton?

Other Plankton