Sunday, March 29, 2009

Zoo in the palm of my hand

The incoming tide brings with it organisms from deeper waters. I plucked a few samples of red seaweeds from the waves on Boundary Bay beach and brought them home for closer inspection. On one piece of Turkish towel, barely two inches long, I found a miniature zoo.

I could distinguish at least four different animals on this piece, maybe up to 6. (It's helpful, with all these photos, to look at them full-size; just right-click on the photo and open in a new tab.) Most apparent are the looped pinkish tubes. The whitish patches are little tubes, short and pudgy, or taller and slimmer, arranged in rows. There are twigs with tiny greenish spots, and near the bottom, a few tiny spirals.

This is a closer view. Some of these tubes are arranged in a fan shape; they stand a bare millimetre or two above the leaf. A lacy pattern under them lies flat against the blade; still another species.

From a different angle; I was trying to get a decent look at those twigs.

And on one tip of the seaweed, two of these little egg cases were glued.

The egg cases were tough, but soft. Everything else growing on the seaweed was as hard as a barnacle shell. I picked at them with a metal hook; not one broke or came away from the leaf. Even the twigs were made of hard shell.

After the seaweed had dried, I examined it again. The various shapes are easier to distinguish now, so I took another round of photos.

Coiled tubes, the twiggy things, bunches of "grapes", "glass" bubbles (under the coils) and straight tubes.

The fan-shaped arrangement of tubes is clearer here.

Another view of the "glass" bubbles and the twigs.

I pried one twig to an upright position (so delicate and tiny, yet it didn't break) and held it directly up to the light. The detail is washed out, but you can see how it's formed; each leaf is smooth on one side, curved in to cup a nest of spikes on the other.

The whole zoo is less than 4 cm. long.

Some of these were fairly easy to identify. The leathery lemon donuts are snail eggs: I'd seen their photos before. A chink snail, Lacuna sp. The pink and white coils are the shells of Dwarf tubeworms, Spirobis.

As for the rest, I think they're Bryozoans. And these are fascinating animals, which deserve a whole post to themselves, so I'll leave them until tomorrow.



  1. what a fascinating zoo! thanks for making me small enough to walk around in it ;-)

  2. Another wonderful Weeta post. You are guiding us through alien landscapes.

  3. OH My goodness...this world I never see has become visible thru you...thanks for sharing all this cool stuff.

    I thought I commented several posts down but I don't see I so guessing it didn't go thru.

    But I said then..
    that i picture your home full of jars with bugs in them.. microscopes, magnifying glasses and books piled high. Am I right?

  4. Thanks, all, for the encouragement!

    Dawn, No, I never saw your comment. I went looking today, and I don't think it came through.

    You're more or less right. The jars are mostly pill bottles, so they don't take up much room; a small tray on my desk, a box underneath. There is one large glass bottle for my live spider, web and all, though.

    Magnifying glasses, and viewing boxes, a light box, etc. A couple of old microscopes. (I really want to get a new, up-to-date student model.) Yup, that's all stashed in handy corners. And I have several bookcases full of books, with the overflow in a big basket or piled on chairs. They move around; there are 4 books on my desk at the moment. And Laurie's bookcases hold another several thousand books; some are reference books that I use all the time.

    We're always trying to downsize; we weed out books we may not want to reread, and haul them down to the bookstore, but we always come back with more than we took.


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