In winter it can seem at first glance that there isn’t much going on in terms of life; what animals you can see are simply trying to survive and they spread out across the country – making them harder to spot than usual. All the plants are sleeping, and lots of mammals are hibernating, most invertebrates are dead or tucked up under bark or in your roof. But with all the recent rain there is a whole world come to life, creatures busily rushing about feeding and breeding or more likely splitting in two. I am talking about the microscopic world in moss/lichen/ponds/soil full of rotifers, Tardigrades, nematodes and algae – all completely unaware of the larger world.
I set up my microscope, got a piece of moss from the garden, soaked it in water, put a drop of the water on a slide and hey presto! Admittedly there weren’t masses of things to see but what I did find was quite interesting; there were a lot of very small spherical things that whizzed about and a few larger creatures too. I took some photos and videos with my micro-optic camera that attaches to my microscope at one end and my computer at the other – take a look at what I found.
This is a wee Water-bear with large stiff hairs on his back and eight little pumping legs. These are very common and really interesting creatures, only about 0.5mm long – smaller than some of our individual body cells, yet it is a whole animal made up of tiny cells and a hard exoskeleton.
I also found a Rotifer which is another micro-animal, it has grasps at one end to hold onto the substrate and a circular mouth at the other which has a ring of cilia (hairs) that wave rapidly to suck in water – which contains the food it needs.
I also discovered a very fast moving wormy-thing that resembled a leech somewhat but I suspect was a type of paramecium, but to be honest it could have been anything! As you can see from the video below I had some difficulty in chasing it across the slide but if you pause it I am sure you can make out its form.
I also saw some motile algae cells – yes, plants that can move – and quite fast too, they swim through the water using minute hairs called cilia. They do this to move out of bad environmental conditions or into better light to photosynthesize. It is really fascinating the things you can see with a normal microscope, I encourage you to try it (pond water is particularly rewarding) and take a peek into a world that exists all around us but out of sight.