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Dana 1852


Phylum Arthropoda
Subphylum Crustacea
Class Malacostraca
Superorder Eucarida
Order Euphausiacea (krill)

Distinguishing characteristics

  • Euphausiids (krill) are holoplanktonic, relatively large crustaceans.
  • Most 1 to 2 cm long as adults, but some can reach 6 to 12 cm long.
  • Chitinous exoskeleton made up of 3 parts: cephalon (head), thorax and abdomen.
  • The first 2 parts are fused into 1 section.
  • The head and thoracic body segments often covered by a carapace dorsally and laterally.
  • Transparent outer shell.
  • Intricate compound eyes.
  • 2 antennae.
  • Several pairs of thoracic legs, called pereiopods (number varies among genera and species).
  • 5 swimming legs, called pleopods.
  • Distinguishable by externally visible gills


  • Occur in all oceans worldwide.
  • Most are epipelagic or, pertaining to, or living in the ocean at a depth of between 180 m (600 ft) and 900 m (3000 ft)', and gregarious, forming large social groupings: swarms or schools.
  • Size and density of swarms depends on species and region.
  • They often dominate the zooplankton over the continental shelf and in regions of high productivity.
  • Only one species is abundant in coastal waters of south-east Australia (Nyctiphanes australis), although many other species can be found in oceanic waters and will be occasionally taken over the shelf.


  • Worldwide this superorder provides food for baleen whales, manta rays, whale sharks, seals and some seabirds.
  • Considered keystone species near the bottom of the foodchain as they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton, and convert these into a form suitable for larger animals.
  • Display large daily vertical migrations, therefore providing food for surface predators at night and in deeper waters during the day.
  • Filter feeders; front most thoracopods form fine combs that filter water for food particles.
  • Mostly omnivorous. Some species are carnivorous, feeding only on small zooplankton and fish larvae.
  • Bioluminescent; possess organs (photophores) that emit light. Precise function unknown; potentially for mating, social interaction or orientation.

Additional information

  • Commercially fished in southern waters around Japan, in the Southern Ocean and off parts of the Canadian coast.