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Gymnodinium sanguineum Hirasaka, 1922

Species Overview:

Gymnodinium sanguineum is an unarmoured, marine, planktonic dinoflagellate species. This cosmopolitan species is a red tide former that has been associated with fish and shellfish mortality events.

Taxonomic Description:

Gymnodinium sanguineum is an athecate species; i.e. without thecal plates. This species is highly variable in size and shape. Cells are large, slightly dorso-ventrally flattened and roughly pentagonal (Figs. 1-4). An apical groove is present (Fig. 2). Cells range in size from 40-80 µm in length (Hirasaka, 1922, Lebour, 1925, Dodge, 1982, Fukuyo et al., 1990, Hallegraeff, 1991, Steidinger and Tangen, 1996).

The epitheca and hypotheca are nearly equal in size. The epitheca is rounded and conical, and the hypotheca is deeply indented by the sulcus creating two posterior lobes (Figs. 1-4). The median cingulum is left-handed and displaced 1-2 times its width (Figs. 2,3). The sulcus does not invade the epitheca, but expands posteriorly into the hypotheca (Hirasaka, 1922, Lebour, 1925, Dodge, 1982, Fukuyo et al., 1990, Steidinger and Tangen, 1996).

Morphology and Structure:

G. sanguineum has numerous large, spindle-shaped, reddish-yellow-brown chloroplasts radiating from the center of the cell. The large nucleus is slightly off-center (Fig. 4). Cells can vary from heavily pigmented to pale yellow or nearly colorless (Hirasaka, 1922, Lebour, 1925, Dodge, 1982, Fukuyo et al., 1990, Steidinger and Tangen, 1996). Mixotrophy has been observed for this species: in the Chesapeake Bay G. sanguineum preys on ciliate protozooplankton (Bockstahler and Coats, 1993).


G. sanguineum reproduces asexually by binary fission; cells divide obliquely during mitosis (Dodge, 1982).


G. sanguineum is a planktonic species common in estuarine and coastal waters. This cosmopolitan species is a bloom-former associated with shellfish and fish kills. The first G. sanguineum red tide was reported from Kozusa-ura, Gokasho Bay, Japan (Hirasaka, 1922). Red tide events caused by this species have since been recorded from other coastal regions of Japan (Fukuyo et al., 1990). It is a common red tide bloom species in Australian and New Zealand coastal waters as well (Hallegraeff, 1991). G. sanguineum is a common red tide species in the Chesapeake Bay where levels as high as 8.8 X 10^5 cells/liter have been reported (Bockstahler and Coats, 1993). One bloom in Coyote Bay, Gulf of California, Mexico, cell densities reached 1.0 X 10^5 cells/liter (Kiefer and Lasker, 1975).

Robinson and Brown, 1983 and Voltolina, 1993 observed possible sexual stages of G. sanguineum from a recurrent bloom. They speculate that this species may form resting cysts to reseed a region in the next bloom season.

Nakamura et al., 1982 reported that cultures of G. sanguineum can tolerate a wide range of temperatures (13-24 °C) and salinities (15-35 o/oo).


G. sanguineum is a red tide species associated with fish and invertebrate kills. Cardwell et al., 1979 reported the acute toxicity of this species to larval stages of two species of oysters in Puget Sound, Washington State. And G. sanguineum is believed to be responsible for at least one reported fish mortality event in Peru (Jordan, 1979).

Tindall et al., 1984 and Carlson and Tindall, 1985 demonstrated one isolate of this species to be potentially toxic; however, the toxin principles have yet to be elucidated.

Habitat and Locality:

G. sanguineum is commonly found in temperate to tropical neritic waters (Steidinger and Tangen, 1996). Blooms have been recorded from Japan (Hirasaka, 1922, Fukuyo et al., 1990), Australia and New Zealand (Hallegraeff, 1991), and from the Atlantic and Pacific American coasts (Kiefer and Lasker, 1975, Robinson and Brown, 1983, Bockstahler and Coats, 1993, Voltolina, 1993).

Gymnodinium sanguineum