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.


Altai Scarp

Six times a year the A.L.P.O. Lunar Section assigns its members a lunar feature, or group of features, to observe and photograph (or draw). The current assignment is the Altai Scarp, a 315 mile long line of steep cliffs that was created when a section of the lunar surface collapsed.

Altai Scarp

Altai Scarp

The Altai Scarp shows as a bright line running diagonally down to the crater Piccolomini.

If you would like to participate (you do not need to be a member) go to the link below for submission guidelines. Shortly after the first of the month the same link will take you to the report written on the subject, using images submitted.

The Lunar Observer


Asian Lady Bugs

Lady Bugs are perhaps the most “popular” beetles in North America. They are very numerous and easily recognizable. They are also quite varied (46 genera, 400 species) but most people ignore their details and just lump them all together as a single type.

Without attracting much attention one of the more common native Lady Bugs, the Nine-spotted variety (Coccinella novemnotata), is being forced out of its natural habitat by several invasive species. The most likely “villain” appears to be the Asian Lady Bug (Harmonia axyridis). Although it feeds on aphids (a plus in many people’s minds) it is destructive to many food crops, most notably grapes.

Although I have not made a concerted effort in this field, it is significant to note that none of the Lady Bugs I have photographed in the last several years have been Nine-spotted. All have been the same invasive Asian species.

Asian Lady Bug - Harmonia axyridis

Asian Lady Bug – Harmonia axyridis


Butterflies and Moths

Haploa Clymene

Haploa Clymene

Butterflies and moths are very closely related; they make up the entire order of insects known as Lepidoptera. They are also very similar in appearance, sometimes rather difficult to tell apart. There are, however, two classic rules-of-thumb that are very helpful.

(1) Butterflies are active during daylight hours while moths are almost always nocturnal.

(2) Butterflies have long slender antennae while those of a moth are usually short and feathery.

When I photographed this colorful critter it was around 11 o’clock in the morning (check), and I immediately noted that its antennae were long and slender (check). When I looked it up on the internet I found that it was Haploa clymene – more commonly known as a Haploa Moth. Yes, a moth! What can I say? Rules-of-thumb are simply that, no more.