Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Water bear! (repost)

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.)


  1. As I said in my post, it's best to soak the moss in water overnight. That way any water bears that are in dormant state among the moss will hatch out as well (I think a certain degree of luck in finding the right patch of moss is also involved ;-P ). Good luck!

  2. Thanks, Christopher. I noticed that in your post. 3 to 24 hours, you wrote.

    My luck on that one occasion could have been because I fell asleep on the microscope and gave the critter time to get moving.



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