The first microorganism I ever saw was a green algae called Volvox.
Volvox is extraordinary. It is a colonial green alga, made up of a few hundred individual cells living together in a spherical unit. It’s emerald green in color and tumbles around in the water like a bejeweled snowball. Its cells are each connected by a thin thread of mucilage, creating a repeating green geometry separated with a pleasing amount of negative space.
My mind was blown.
That was almost 10 years ago. These days I spend my time in a lab extracting RNA from a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Then I take that RNA and run experiments that on occasion give me answers to questions I have about T. vaginalis. I don’t use a microscope for my research at all.
At some point in 2015 I took up microscopy as a serious hobby. I started collecting pond water from around New York City, taking it back to my lab and making videos and images of the organisms I found within.
In each drop of water, I find a microcosmos teeming with tiny characters and breathtaking landscapes. There are shapes and colors and forms aplenty, many to rival Volvox in its beauty. I’m constantly stunned by the compositions that I see thought the microscope, and the interactions between the organisms and their ability to navigate their surroundings.
Every time I collect a sample I’m hoping to find Volvox lurking within. But I am yet to find it.
1. Coleps Swarm - A swarm of coleps ciliates attempt to devour a green alga. The coleps have mouth parts that they use to latch on to prey and take chunks out of them. This green alga is well defended though, it has a hard, smooth cell wall and the coleps are having trouble holding on.
2. Heliozan - We see an organism called a Heliozoan or “sun animal” sitting pretty as its busy neighbors go about their frenetic business. The heliozoan has a guest. Those green dots inside are green algal cells. They live protected inside the heliozoan, and in return they pay rent in the form on energy they trap from sunlight. The heliozoan doesn’t need to find and eat food. Its neighbors must, and they are kept busy doing so.
3. Microcosmos - A busy drop of water showing some of the stunning diversity of the microbial world. Here there are many different types of ciliates, bacteria, flagellates and microscopic animals, all coexisting in a few microliters of water.
4. Peranema - A peranema cell, a kind of flagellate, traverses a green algal bloom. The peranema uses its flagellum to swim through the water, and to sense its environment. Flagella are sensitive organs. They feel the environment, and also sense chemical and temperature signals. It is the peranema's eyes and hands and nose.
5. Tardigrade - A Tardigrade or water bear, a kind of microscopic animal, thoroughly explores a pile of pond scum.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sally Warring is the creative scientist behind the popular Instagram account Pondlife, which documents the fantastical unicellular microorganisms she discovers in wild bodies of water in and around New York City.