This is a repost from my previous blog, from November, 20006, the first of 2 parts.
"What I really want to find is a water bear," I said this evening to Laurie. He said nothing, just rolled his eyes slightly. He already knows I'm a bit daft.
I had been demonstrating that daftness by describing, excitedly and in detail, the tiny insect I had discovered the day before. Some variety of something like a bristletail, I told him. And then went on to rave about water bears.
I had read about them, and had been looking in soil and soil debris samples off and on since last year, but with no luck.
Sleeping at night is not something I do very much of. I settled down around 11:00 or so to read the blogs until I was sleepy enough. And found this one. Sandra Porter was writing about Tardigrades. Which in common parlance, are water bears. On a rainy Sunday, she had gone out, collected a handful of moss, wet it (more) and squeezed it a bit, put the drippings under the microscope, and found water bears. I was jealous.
Ah, but she had given me a couple of good clues: how to look through the moss, and the size of the beasties. They can be from 1/2 mm to a bit over 1. Big enough to see with the naked eye, if the light is right. The books I have had never given me these important facts.
I didn't even finish reading. I went outside, in the rain and the dark, and collected a handful of moss and lichen. Brought it inside, watered it down, squeezed the drippings out, used an eye-dropper to put them on my usual examining plate (a white plastic lid). Brought out the magnifying lens and the hand microscope -- 40 to 60x -- and a needle for separating tiny fronds and started to search. Nothing. Nothing. More nothing. Moss, lichen, water, some mud. No water bears. I did find two earthworms, too small to be seen with the naked eye, no bigger than the water bears would be. My eyes were burning from the close work under a bright light; I closed them several times to rest them, then woke to find I had been sleeping with my eye propped on the microscope. Ouch!
Well, I had to tidy up and go to bed. I put away the microscope, bent just one more time to survey the straggly moss stems. Something moved. Something tiny and white, maybe about a millimetre long. When I bent over it with the lens, I could see it making its way across an open space between two mosses. It just had to be a water bear! I ran for the microscope, no longer sleepy.
It was a water bear. White. I carefully moved it to a black disposable salad plate from a fast-food joint. Turned the microscope on it again. Aha! Beautiful!
Sandra says they're cute. She's right.
So now, I'm going to bed, satisfied and sleepy again. Tomorrow: more about water bears and why they fascinate me. (Apart from the fact that I'm daft.)