First Men on the Moon

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon. The landing site was on Mare Tranquilitatis, the Sea of Tranquility. It was not selected because it was an interesting place to land but because it appeared to be the safest – flat, smooth, and near the center of the visible side of the Moon. Interestingly, Neil Armstrong did not set foot on the Moon until six hours after the landing, which made it 2:56 UTC (Universal Coordinated Time) July 21, 1969.


Apollo 11 landing site marked by red X

Apollo 11 landing site marked by red X

The last manned mission to the Moon was in 1972. Since that time no manned flight has left Earth orbit – the equivalent of men in ships, after discovering the new world, spending the next 40+ years just sailing up and down the coast of Europe.


Phase Contrast Videos

In addition to enhancing the main subject, one of the advantages of phase contrast illumination is its ability to make visible many small and transparent objects that cannot be seen under bright field illumination.

Rotifer - Class Bdelloidea

Rotifer – Class Bdelloidea

In the image above, notice the trail of bright objects streaming from beneath the Rotifer. Under bright field illumination they were not visible. However, there is more to be seen than the Rotifer and this trail. In the eyepiece one can also see the whirlpools of matter created by the twin circles of cilia on the Rotifer’s head, but they do not show up in a still photograph. It takes motion to fully duplicate the eyepiece view.

Click on the link below to see a phase contrast video that shows not only the trail of streaming objects but the whirlpools as well.


Testate Amoeba – Arcella

Arcella as seen from above

Arcella as seen from above

Arcella is a Testate Amoeba whose shell (test) is rather squat, much like a turtle’s. Its pseudopodia extend from an opening in the bottom. Sometimes a sudden rush of water or a large passing creature will flip it onto its back. This is serious for the Arcella since its pseudopodia do not extend far enough for it to reach the “ground” and right itself.

Inverted Arcella seen from the side

Inverted Arcella seen from the side

In such a situation, the Arcella will develop an air bubble near the inner edge of its test. The bubble will rise, causing the Arcella to stand on its end. The pseudopodia can then extend far enough to reach the substrate and the amoeba will right itself. When it is no longer needed, the air bubble will dissolve and the Arcella can resume it normal life.



Feathers and Bird Identification

2014-0707aWhen I found this feather, it was obvious that it came from a fairly large bird; it measured 8-1/4 inches from tip to base. And it was a flight feather, not a body feather; note that the main vein is not centrally located

An excellent website for feather identification can be found at:  Feather Atlas

I quickly narrowed it down to either a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk; then eliminated the Sharp-shinned. If it were a Sharp-shinned Hawk feather it would have had a large white spot near the base; otherwise they are just about identical.

I added the feather to my modest collection of a couple dozen which fills a large drinking glass on a shelf in my home office.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks are fairly common in our area and, as is often the case, so are the nearly identical Sharp-shinned Hawks. The image below was taken at quite a distance and so is not suitable for making a positive identification.

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

There are, of course, other means of making an ID. One of them is the behavior of the critter. A Cooper’s Hawk (but not the Sharp-shinned) will pluck the feathers from its prey before it flies off with it – as this hawk did. That pretty much sealed the deal.


Point of View

Exploring a drop of “living” water is always an adventure; you never know what you will find. Some micro-critters are immediately identifiable, especially as your experience grows. Others take extended research to identify. One factor that can complicate the process is the angle of view one gets of the organism. When normally seen from the top, an organism that is seen from the side can look quite different. In fact, one can sometimes think that it is a completely different species. Fortunately this diatom, Genus: Hantzschia, was observed as it slowly rotated so there is no doubt that it is the same critter.

Modified by CombineZPModified by CombineZP

Testate Amoebas

The word “Amoeba” immediately brings to mind a formless blob of protoplasm that has no permanent shape. These are commonly called Naked Amoebas.

Naked Amoeba

Naked Amoeba


But there is another large group of Amoebas that possess a shell (test). They are known as Testate Amoebas. Some, like Difflugia, build their tests by gathering debris from their immediate surroundings.

Difflugia pyriformis

Difflugia pyriformis


Others, like Euglypha, secrete their test from within.

Euglypha strigosa

Euglypha strigosa


Ghost Pipe Plant

Virtually all trees have at least one fungus associated with their root system to help them absorb nutrients from the soil. It is a symbiotic relationship with the fungus, which cannot itself absorb the soil nutrients, getting its nourishment from the tree.

Sometimes there is a third party to the relationship. The Ghost Pipe (or Indian Pipe) is a plant that has no chlorophyll (hence its white color) and so cannot photosynthesize. Instead it parasitizes the fungus for nutrients but gives it nothing in return.

Ghost Pipe - Monotropa uniflora

Ghost Pipe Plant – Monotropa uniflora

2014-0628bThis Ghost Pipe has not been fertilized. Once it is fertilized it will turn a slightly pink color and the flower head will be held upright instead of hanging down.


Hairy-cap Moss Inhabitants

Most mosses consist of densely packed small leaves which makes for excellent water retention and, therefore, ideal ecosystems for micro-organisms. I expected little from the Hairy-cap Moss mentioned in a recent post since it is mostly open space with little opportunity for “long lasting water”. My first look into the moss colony confirmed my low expectations.

There were a few Rotifers and large Protozoans but they were difficult to photograph because of their movement. When I take the first sample from a new collection I do not add Methyl Cellulose to slow or stop microbe motion. This is because a lack of movement can cause small Protozoans to get lost in the surrounding debris. Once I get a feel for what to expect I will start using Methyl Cellulose because I will know what to look for among the tiny bits of transparent minerals (mostly quartz).

I was also disappointed in not finding any Diatoms but that may change in future searches.

Algal cell

Algal cell

Small Ciliated Protozoan

Small Ciliated Protozoan



Venus Flytrap


The Venus Flytrap is a fascinating plant, not only is it carnivorous, it moves at a speed that does not require time-lapse photography to be seen. When properly stimulated, the trap closes in about 1/10th of a second.

Venus Flytraps are native to only a very small area (about 40 square miles) near the border of North and South Carolina. As a result of human intrusion, they are in danger of extinction. For what it is worth, there are hundreds of times more Flytraps grown commercially than are found in the wild.

They can survive for years in a home environment if properly cared for. Flytraps should never be fertilized or fed hamburger (or other type of meat); both are fatal to the plant. When an individual trap has been tripped about a half dozen times it will turn black and die but the plant will grow a new one.