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When the Sun Rises: The Effect of Light on the Movement of Daphnia

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Areas of Science
Time Required
Average (6-10 days)
Material Availability
Specialty items, like a Daphnia magna culture kit, can be ordered from online vendors such as Carolina Biological Supply Company. Alternatively, you could purchase Daphnia possibly from a local tropical fish store.
Average ($40 - $80)
Dana A. Feeny
Teisha Rowland, Ph.D., Science Buddies
*Note: For this science project you will need to develop your own experimental procedure. Use the information in the summary tab as a starting place. If you would like to discuss your ideas or need help troubleshooting, use the Ask An Expert forum. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions and offer guidance if you come to them with specific questions.

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Changes in the environment, or stimuli, affect your behavior and movement over the course of a day: When you get cold, for instance, you might get up and put on a sweater. Or if it is sunny and warm, you might go outside to play sports or go for a walk. Different stimuli, including light, affect the movement of other organisms as well. But how does the type of light influence their movement? Do they respond differently to different kinds of light, depending on other factors in their surroundings? In this science project, you will investigate how different lights affect the movement and swimming patterns of water fleas (Daphnia magna) in three different aquatic environments.

Daphnia magna, commonly known as water fleas, are tiny freshwater crustaceans. They are filter feeders and can survive in culture (like an aquarium) by eating algae, bacteria, or yeast. A picture of a Daphnia is shown in Figure 1 below. You can purchase a culture kit from Carolina Biological Supply Company or you may be able to purchase them at a tropical fish store. (For more suggestions on specialty items you may need to culture Daphnia, check out the Materials section of a different Science Buddies science project that also uses Daphnia, Using Daphnia to Monitor Water Toxicity. Although they are small, Daphnia are big enough that you can easily watch them moving around in a fishbowl or small jar.

Photo of a water flea under a microscope shows a translucent skin and visible organs

Photo of a water flea shows a translucent skin with organs visible and labeled. A heart is located near the top of the head and under a small layer of skin on its back. An egg sac is located below the heart on the middle part of its back. Three legs protrude from each side of the abdoment and two antennae covered in hairs hang from the front of the head.

Figure 1. Photomicrograph (a magnified image taken through a microscope) of Daphnia, the common water flea.

For this science project, you should first investigate how Daphnia normally migrate and swim around in different aquatic environments. Three different aquatic environments you can create and test include test tubes of water, large containers of water that simulate their pond habitat, and a real pond. How do the Daphnia swim during the day, when there is light, compared to when it is dark? In what direction do they swim? Do they show different patterns in where and how they move?

After you have investigated Daphnia's migration pattern in response to normal light, try testing different lighting sources to see how they change the movement patterns of the Daphnia. How do different artificial lights affect Daphnia's movement? Do different colored lights affect the movement, and, if so, do they affect it in a different way than the regular artificial lights? Can you explain their behavior? Even the tiny Daphnia can display complex behaviors in response to their environment!


Find information on culturing Daphnia here: Find more general information on Daphnia here:
  • National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Daphnia. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "When the Sun Rises: The Effect of Light on the Movement of Daphnia." Science Buddies, 23 June 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/EnvSci_p006/environmental-science/effect-of-light-on-daphnia-movement. Accessed 3 June 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, June 23). When the Sun Rises: The Effect of Light on the Movement of Daphnia. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/EnvSci_p006/environmental-science/effect-of-light-on-daphnia-movement

Last edit date: 2020-06-23
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