web analytics

The amoeba was always my favorite

I haven’t had my scopes out since I moved, but I was once a keen amateur microscopist. A pond dipper, mostly. Microscopy and astronomy are two areas of scientific study where a non-professional can make important discoveries (that’s the motto of Microscopy UK, which publishes the excellent free online mag Micscape).

I didn’t make any discoveries, important or otherwise. I made bowls of stinky hay infusions. And microphotography rigs that relied on duct tape, balance and the power of prayer.

I didn’t even really learn anything about protozoa. I spent hours and hours staring down the tube going, “ZOMG! That hairy thing just ate that blobby thing!”

I loved every minute of it.

If you want to see some spectacularly good pictures of hairy things and blobby things, check out the Flickr page of Proyecto Agua — the Water Project. It’s a pond-dipping and photography project of the Laboratory of Natural Sciences of the Institute of La Rioja in Spain.

I particularly recommend the videos (why, yes, there’s an amoeba proteus).

It took me an improbable number of years to find an amoeba, by the way. My dad was all, “amoeba? Pff! That’s the easiest one!”

We have really dumb arguments in my family.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: September 8, 2010, 11:01 pm

Hunh. Arguments about which microscopic organism is the easiest to find strike me as WAY less dumb than arguments about, say, who danced best with the stars. (Sometimes I feel very alone when at work. . .)

Comment from Pavel
Time: September 9, 2010, 1:04 am

Those photos and movies are so cool. That amoeba is growing its tentacles, and there are these other blobby things that go zipping by and banging into him.

“Out of my way, ya freakin’ bacterium,” you can almost hear them taunting, shouting out their windows. And poor Mr. Amoeba is all, “But, but . . . .” And the girl blobby things in the back seat throw back their little heads and laugh and laugh, and Mr. Amoeba trudges away.

I pretty much kicked ass in microbiology in college, actually.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: September 9, 2010, 1:06 am

Sounds like you had a wretched social life, though. . .or are you speaking from the perspective of the boy blobby thing at the steering wheel?

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: September 9, 2010, 2:32 am

Oh No. I just felt the Intrepid die. All 400 Vulcans aboard are just GONE.

And even their computer didn’t know what was killing them……. 😉

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: September 9, 2010, 2:36 am

We do a microsafari lab in our biology classes, and heck…we find amoebae all the time. 🙂

Comment from Woolie M.
Time: September 9, 2010, 3:39 am

Anyone here heard of “Horse Hair Snakes?” Many moons ago and still prolly under the Nixon Admin, Me and my sis would go exploring. One day, after fishin in a pond, We found a bunch of squigglies in a runoff from the pond. Weird worm no eyes, mouth etc. We took a few home in a jar.
Mom said Horse Hair Snakes. She thought.
I could prolly google this, but wont. I would like to see if any other similar bugs have been found? In Ponds?

Comment from Pavel
Time: September 9, 2010, 4:01 am

What, Woolie M.? Worms without mouths and eyes? Preposterous.

Comment from Deborah
Time: September 9, 2010, 4:02 am

Weasel, did you ever draw science/medical illustrations? Given your enormous talent and piquant wit, you could create some killer cartoons.

My shot at being a biologist ended when I barfed on the floor of the science lab, after getting a whiff of the water from a cow tank that the teacher brought to the lab in a canning jar. Come to think of it—it looked a lot like that top photo. I eventually did get a look at an amoeba, and a paramecium too, but I had trouble focusing the microscope and it made me sick to my stomach. The teacher sent me out of the class, and let me draw pictures of them with map pencils instead!

In a complete, but very large circle, years later I worked as an intake clerk for an environmental lab, and took in all kinds of nasty biological samples (and I do mean nasty), but never once got sick. And you can’t believe what the waste water from a animal rendering plant smells like.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: September 9, 2010, 4:16 am

Hm. “Horse hair snakes.” Yeah, well, it seems to yield painfully earnest fiction, and urban legend. Not that your mom was having you on, or anything–she may well have believed, as apparently millions do, that if you leave a horse hair in water overnight. . .but it doesn’t really help to identify the organisms you found. Assuming that such identification is of interest. . .

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: September 9, 2010, 4:53 am

So… No trekers here today….


Comment from David Gillies
Time: September 9, 2010, 6:32 am

I got contact lenses cos my job in between BSc Physics and MSc Electronic Engineering had me messing about with microwave-frequency signal processing components – which are necessarily tiny – under a 25 power microscope, and taking glasses on and off got tiresome. I am mildly entomophobic, so looking at bugs up close freaks me out. I still to this day don’t like peering down microscopes.

I was a computer/electronics freak as a kid (still am). Ooh, I am so going to get me an Arduino when I get the chance. Or a Gumstix.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: September 9, 2010, 11:00 am

I looked into medical illustration, Deborah. I’d’ve loved it. Turns out, to be fully qualified, you have to go through med school. And I’m like, “shit! If I have to go through med school, I want to be a facelift doctor and make squillions!”

When I was in my twenties, David, it suddenly dawned on me I was a grownup with disposable income and I could buy all the stuff nobody bought me when I was a kid. I went Heathkit mad.

Comment from Deborah
Time: September 9, 2010, 12:04 pm

Oh! Oh! Heath Kits! I love(ed) Heath Kits, especially their instructions. My first photography job at a newspaper required me to use an Apple computer, and I told my editor I needed “Heath Kit instructions” to operate it. So he actually drew pictures of the little keys in proper sequence so I could format things correctly can quit bothering him.

Comment from Sockless Joe
Time: September 9, 2010, 2:57 pm

Offtopic Photoshop suggestion/request — It seems to me that Lisa Murkowski is ripe for a mashup with Gollum from LotR, desperate to keep her precious Senate seat with a ridiculous write-in campaign (or increasingly unlikely Libertarian party run).

Comment from Monotone (The Elderish)
Time: September 9, 2010, 4:14 pm

hmmm, i wonder if she’ll bite off someone’s finger?

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: September 9, 2010, 6:22 pm

“Microscopy and astronomy are two areas of scientific study where a non-professional can make important discoveries”


It was none other than Beatrix Potter who discovered that lychens are a symbiont. Of course, in that time, Women weren’t allowed to present research, so her uncle did it for her.

Comment from JuliaM
Time: September 9, 2010, 6:29 pm

“I didn’t even really learn anything about protozoa. I spent hours and hours staring down the tube going, “ZOMG! That hairy thing just ate that blobby thing!”

You could have downloaded ‘Spore’ and had the same fun… 😉

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: September 9, 2010, 8:51 pm

It would be great to have a p-shop of the Starship Enterprise heading toward the amoeba….

(Yes, I am still heavily sleep deprived)

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: September 9, 2010, 8:55 pm

Yeah – those amoeba look all cute and innocent, but don’t piss them off!

Boy Dies of Brain-Eating Amoeba in Lake

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Seven-year-old Kyle Lewis died last month (August 2010) after contracting a parasitic amoeba while swimming on a camping trip in Texas, reports KTLA. Doctors said Kyle contracted an infection from Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that thrives in warm, stagnant water. He died within four days of contracting the rare infection.


Comment from Mark
Time: September 9, 2010, 9:40 pm

For Bob Mulroy:

Was she Harry’s mom?

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: September 9, 2010, 11:37 pm

Bob Mulroy – that was a really interesting snippet: thank you!

Grief! Stoaty has some good contributors.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: September 10, 2010, 12:19 am

Beatrix Potter also bred prize-winning sheep.

Comment from Mark
Time: September 10, 2010, 12:48 am

For David Gillies:

Let’s stop with those bestiality rumors right now! She’s not around to defend herself…

Comment from Woolie M.
Time: September 10, 2010, 2:55 am

Can’t Hark my cry
This was a real thing, Legend or ? I saw what I saw. And took some of them home in a jar (JAR BINKS), for the star wars crowd looking for giggles.
Have never seen em since. And I get out and hunt and fish still today. Alot.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: September 10, 2010, 3:05 am

Oh, Woolie M., I didn’t doubt that it happened, or that the creatures you collected were as described. Or that your Mom genuinely recognized them as something she had been taught to identify as “horse hair snakes.” I just don’t think “horse hair snakes” is going to lead anywhere productive in terms of identifying them outside that context. Your Mom probably identified them accurately within the parameters of her own knowledge, but unfortunately, “horse hair snakes” doesn’t seem to lead to a more scientific identification elsewhere.

Is there any chance of checking in with other relatives or friends still living in the area where that occurred, and describing your find? They might know more. . .

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: September 13, 2010, 3:12 pm

Horse hair snakes? Seen ’em, in exactly the type of locale Woolie describes. They were fairly common — all you had to do was find a spring-fed pond with a wide, shallow outlet. I figgered they were a type of filter-feeder, because they anchored themselves in clusters on submerged rocks.

If anybody feels the urge to visit Stony Brook out on Long Island and collect some, I’ll give you directions from the old Carriage Museum on Route 25A…

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: September 13, 2010, 4:01 pm

Well, on a Google search for “horse hair snakes” what seems to come up is debunking more than identification. There was this something from Google Books that referred to them “also horse hair worms,” which turned up this link (mind the gap!)

http: // kaweahoaks.com/html/horsehairworms.html

and this link (Blessed St. Kismet, avert your eyes!):

http: // http://www.tulsamastergardeners.org/insects/horsehairworms.html

Are we getting any closer?

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: September 14, 2010, 9:18 am

Yup, them are them, Can’t hark. The ones I usually saw were dark, *dark* chestnut brown, and closer to the 1/25″ diameter. Interesting life cycle, huh?

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: September 14, 2010, 11:42 am

What I found fascinating is that there seems to be uncertainty about their life cycle–specifically, how the larvae get into the host bodies. Nice to know there are still mysteries in the Universe!

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: September 15, 2010, 8:58 am

Hmmmm. I’d guess the host either ingests the egg with its veggie meal, or previously-infected hosts pin down a hapless newcomer while the larva emulates a Goa’uld…

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny