Dry Vernal Pond (2)

Unlike protozoa, diatoms that dry out completely cannot be rejuvenated with the addition of water. Therefore, any living diatoms found in the mud sample that I took several days ago had to be alive at the time of collection. This one glided smoothly across the field of view from right to left.

Diatom - (As yet unidentified)

Diatom – (As yet unidentified)


Dry Vernal Pond

Our local vernal pond has been dry for about five months but I wondered just how dry it was. After brushing aside the outer most layer of dead leaves I was surprised to find that the soil beneath it was so moist it could be considered mud. I took a sample home, placed it in a larger jar and added some distilled water.

My first view under the microscope revealed hundreds of “empty” diatoms and a fair number of testate amoebas. There was, however, nothing that was moving. It will be interesting to see if a couple days in the additional water will reanimate any encysted microbes.

Diatom - Pinnularia

Diatom – Pinnularia

Testate Amoeba - Euglypha

Testate Amoeba – Euglypha



Photographing Captured Insects

It is not always possible to get a good photograph of an insect in its natural surroundings. In those cases, capturing it and photographing it under controlled conditions is the only alternative.

If the insect is an active one, placing the collection bottle in a refrigerator for several minutes will slow it down and make it more manageable.

One method is to invert the collection bottle onto a piece of stiff paper (an index card works fine) and, when the insect falls out, quickly cover it with half of a Petri Dish. The bottom half will usually be a couple millimeters shallower than the top so choose whichever is best suited to the insect at hand. Ideally the dish will confine but not squash the insect. It may be necessary to wait a few minutes for the insect to warm up and stretch its legs to provide a more suitable image. After photographing the specimen, placing the dish and card back in the refrigerator will pacify the insect once again – allowing you to flip it over and get an image of its underside. Obviously, if you do not wish to dissect the insect for more detailed study, it can now be released unharmed.

Leaf-footed Bug (topside) - Genus: Leptoglossus (oppositus?)

Leaf-footed Bug (topside) – Genus: Leptoglossus (oppositus?)

Leaf-footed Bug (underside) - Genus: Leptoglossus (oppositus?)

Leaf-footed Bug (underside) – Genus: Leptoglossus (oppositus?)


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