True Bugs

Most people refer to all insects (and arachnids) as bugs. That is no great problem as long as they are not engaged in a “serious” conversation. There are, however, some insects (Order Hemiptera) which are properly called bugs. Or, to be more precise, “true bugs”.

Bugs are similar to beetles (Order Coleoptera) with a few obvious differences. Both have hardened forewings but a beetle’s meet in a straight line down the center and completely cover the flying wings. A bug’s form more of an X and do not cover all of the flying wings. Also, beetles have chewing mouthparts whereas bugs always have piercing mouthparts.

Japanese Beetle - Popillia japonica

Japanese Beetle – Popillia japonica

Green Stink Bug - Acrosternum hilare

Green Stink Bug – Acrosternum hilare



Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant

Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant

Jack-in-the-Pulpit is one of the more exotic plants in our area. Although “solitary” is a word usually reserved for animals, these plants deserve the description as well. I have never seen them grow in clusters of even 3 or 4.

In keeping with their unique appearance, their seeds are among the oddest in the world of flowers. They are bright red, berry-like, and grow in a tight cluster atop a stem of 8-10 inches.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit seeds

Jack-in-the-Pulpit seeds


I have taken my ongoing project of documenting the micro-inhabitants of moss to the next level. I requested, and was granted, my own Twitter Hashtag (#mossmicrobes) and will be posting my project activity to that account. I am limited, of course, to 140 characters and one image per tweet.

My description of the project reads:

“An amateur science project to document the micro-organisms found in clumps of moss.”

And the first tweet provides some background:

“Clumps of moss are islands in a vast ocean of other vegetation; each island has its own ecosystem.”


Exploding Protozoan

If the solution inside a protozoan is more concentrated than that outside, water will diffuse into the cell through osmosis and eventually cause it to burst. An organelle called a contractile vacuole prevents it from bursting by pumping water back out.

Something obviously has gone wrong with this protozoan, perhaps its contractile vacuole. As I observed it swimming in a drop of water taken from a clump of moss, it suddenly exploded. You will notice by the pattern of detritus in both images that the field of view has not changed. Where the protozoan once existed there is now only a disassociated mass protoplasm.


Fern Spores

Ferns are plants that reproduce via spores rather than seeds. The difference between the two is a complex subject that will not be dealt with here. Suffice it to say that seeds are produced by flowering plants while spores are produced by non-flowering plants.

The spores of a fern are located on the underside of the leaves and, although they can be seen with the naked eye, they require some magnification to see them in any detail. The window of opportunity to find fern spores is relatively small since they must be found after they are formed but before they are dispersed.

Underside of Bracken Fern - Family: Pteridium

Underside of Bracken Fern – Family: Pteridium


Milkweed Aphid

2014-0914aOn one of my recent road-walks I saw a Milkweed Pod that was covered with small yellow spots. I took it home to examine it closer and, under the dissecting microscope, I found that they were yellow Aphids of various sizes.

Milkweed Aphids (immature) - Aphis nerii

Milkweed Aphids (immature) – Aphis nerii

The yellow Aphids are immature but there was also an occasional adult (larger and dark colored), some of which had wings.

Milkweed Aphid (adult) - Aphis nerii

Milkweed Aphid (adult) – Aphis nerii



Squash Mount – Banana

Compound microscopes are designed to be used with transmitted light so the subject must be thin enough for light to pass through. This is not a problem with microorganisms, many of which are only one cell thick. But multi-celled plants and animals must be sliced with either a very sharp razor or a microtome. Exceptions are soft plants, like bananas, which are not rigid enough to be sliced properly. These are best examined as squash mounts. As the name implies, a tiny amount of the plant (not much larger than the “o” on a printed page) is placed on a slide and then flattened and spread out by applying pressure to the cover glass.

Squash mount of banana

Squash mount of banana


Although the individual cells will be clearly visible, their inter-relationship or the formation of structures will usually be destroyed. Here is an exception. This is obviously a structure of some sort but I have no idea of its purpose.


Apparent structure in squash mount of banana

Apparent structure in squash mount of banana

Birdbath (8)

Diatom - Genus: Pinnularia

Diatom – Genus: Pinnularia

Diatoms are small, lightweight, and virtually indestructible. When their habitat dries up they are easily carried into the air and can be blown for great distances before being deposited in another location. Birdbath water is an excellent environment for these attractive organisms and the colored interior shows that this one is alive and well.


Birdbath (7)

The original idea behind exploring water from a birdbath was to see if it contained any Rotifers. The fourth slide answered that question in the affirmative. Most Rotifers are between 100 um and 500 um long when completely extended. Although, in extreme cases, they can measure 50 um on the short side and 2,000 um (2mm) on the long side.

2014-0819aThis Rotifer, measuring about 250 um in a partially contracted state, would be on the large end of that scale.

Rove Beetle

Rove Beetle - Family: Staphylinidae

Rove Beetle – Family: Staphylinidae

This is only the second insect of its type that I have encountered. This is somewhat surprising since, with 58,000 species in thousands of genera, they are the largest family of beetles. They are, however, rather secretive; living mostly under rocks and in the deepest layers of leaf litter.

They are a very primitive looking group of insects that can be mistaken for the larvae of some other critter. Their eletra (wing covers – orange in the above image) are very small and cover only a very small portion of the abdomen. Virtually all other beetles have eletra that extend over the entire length of the abdomen.

Not only do Rove Beetles look primitive, it could easily be said that they are primitive. Fossil Rove Beetles, virtually identical to today’s specimens, have been traced to the Triassic period, 200 million years ago.