Monday, December 31, 2007

cascada post 26

The Great Swede

This being the last day of year 2007 is also the last day to celebrate the 300th year of the birth of the great Swede. Of course there are many famous Swedes: Ingmar Bergman, Greta Garbo, Bjorn Borg, Alfred Nobel, Dag Hammarskjöld to name a few. There are surely also many Swedes great in their fields whose names are not well known to the public. But at least since the mid 19th century "THE Great Swede" refers to just one person: Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)

I learned of him about 50 years ago in high school biology, for he was the person, more than any other who made sense of the extreme diversity of the natural world of living things. He started the system of scientific classification of living things that we still use today. His principal work on classification of life was: Systema Naturae which in its first edition was less than a dozen pages. Here is a sample page of the early 1735 edition:

Sample page of Linnaeus's Systema Naturae early 1735 version
(click here for large version -- 385K)

Linnaeus continued to work on his classification system until it grew into a multi-volume work. At least 19 of his students traveled to various parts of the world collecting biological specimens which were included in later editions. The tenth edition of this book is considered the starting point of zoological nomenclature. Here is the cover of volume 1 of that tenth edition.

Cover of volume 1 of the tenth edition (year 1760) of Linneaus's Systema Naturae

To be continued in 2008...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

cascada post 25

Unknown Animals (y mas)

The other day, November 17, 2007 to be precise, I went out in my yard and noticed a strange bug on one of the leaves of a bird of paradise plant. At first I didn't think it was a bug or even alive. It was tiny, smaller than a pencil eraser, maybe about 3 mm in length (about 1/8 of an inch). I was standing there about 3 feet away and it looked like a whitish or grayish spec, maybe dirt or ash, or maybe some white mold or fungus. Then it moved. Hmm, that funny little thing is alive, I thought. I looked more closely and now I see it crawling slowly along the leaf .. it didn't look like an insect since it seemed to have many legs. It didn't look like a caterpillar either. What could it be? I ran and got my camera, a 2001 vintage digital which back then was called a Nikon Coolpix 995. It does a nice job with closeups. Here is the picture of this odd creature:

Mealybug (Pseudococcidae)?
Unknown #1: Strange 'bug'. What is it?
(click on picture for discussion)

That's my thumbnail over on the right, so you can better gauge how small that bug is. I count 24 appendages plus one short one right on the axis of symmetry. The photo shows it more clearly than I could see it with the naked eye. It looks a little like a trilobite I thought. But, in spite of the fact that there is a recipe for trilobite cookies at one of my favorite sites, trilobites have been extinct for 250 million years.

I made a real effort to identify that little guy, but so far not much luck. Part of my effort involved searching the internet and eventually posting a query at . There was one response which suggested it was some kind of mealybug. So I 'google' mealybug and find out there are hundreds of different kinds. And then I 'google image' mealybugs and find many pictures -- but none look like the little guy above. You see, mealybugs have this white powdery dusty stuff all over them. In short: mealybugs are mealy! Not the little guy above. No dust. No powder. I keep my eyes open in my backyard and soon find some real mealy bugs, really small, maybe 2 mm in length. I got a good picture of one. Here it is:

mealybug (family Pseudococcidae)
Mealybug (Pseudococcus elisae ?)
Common name: banana mealybug (?)

This mealybug looks bigger than the unknown creature above, but it is actually smaller. The photo was taken by holding my digital camera above the eyepiece of a microscope -- the very one my parents gave my brother and me back when we were in high school around 1958, nearly 50 years ago!

Since this post is about unknown creatures (or maybe some are fungi) found in my back yard, let me show you another:

Scale or Snail or something else??
Unknown #2: snail or scale insect or something else?

This looked like it might be a snail, but it was very tiny, only 1.5 mm in size. Then again maybe it is a scale insect. Ignorance is not bliss. I could see it move very slowly on the leaf it is resting on, and whose cell structure is visible. The picture above represents the maximum closeness I can get with my camera, unaided. Let me show you a couple of other pictures of the same specimen under the lowest power of my microscope. The first shows it upside down and you can see clearly the semi-translucent structure of the fat 'under-belly' with some dark material inside.

Unknown #2: a closer view

Remember, this guy is only about 1.5 mm in length, that is slightly less than 1/16 of an inch. I have no idea what this is. If you do, please either leave a comment or email me (jbuddenh at When I moved this little guy around under the microscope I could see in one position what looked a little like antennae or some other kind of small appendages. The depth of field is close to zero, so it is pretty blurry, but here is what I saw:

Unknown #2: detail showing antennae-like structures

Let us proceed now to unknown #3 which I thought was some kind of fungus but which some folks on flickr thought was more likely to be an egg sack of some spider or insect. Possibly it my be something altogether different. If you think you know please chime in. Here it is:

unknown (egg sack, fungal or what ?)
Unknown #3: diameter of 'sphere' about 2.8 mm (about 1/10th of an inch)

This thing is made out of thin hair-like fibers interwoven. I cut it open and it seemed to be hollow. I had no proper instruments for this delicate surgery so I used my pocket-knife :( and the results are less than for certain. I looked a bit on the web and found that there do exist galls of similar shape to this and some of similar size, but all were more securely attached. Incidentally this was attached to a leaf, but I don't know the name of the plant.

Next comes unknown #4. It is an example of scale on a leaf. Probably you have seen scales on leaves. They are roundish things that look sort of like a fish scale, maybe 1/8 of an inch in diameter or a little bigger. They sit on the leaves and grow a bit but otherwise do not move. Perhaps you, like me, did not realize that many of them are actually insects and go through various stages in their life cycles. The first stage in the life cycle, called the first-instar nymph, is the crawler stage. Soon they become scales and females are condemned to remain scales even into sexual maturity. The males eventually develop a pair of wings and can fly but die after a few days. Most of their lives scale insects are just motionless scales on leaves. Their is a huge diverse collection of different kinds of scale insects, perhaps 8000 species. These fall into three main classes: the hard-shell kind that look a bit like tiny barnacles stuck to leaves, the soft-shell kind, and the mealybugs which are not scales per se but are related and grouped with them. You can find a lot more about scale insects here. So that brings us to unknown #4 which is nothing more that a closeup photo of an unusual scale on a leaf:

scale on leaf (or what?)
Unknown #4: strange scale on a leaf

The green background is the leaf. The round thing, which is about 3 mm in diameter (a tad more than 1/10th of an inch), is the scale which, however, is unusual in several respects. First there are the orange filaments or hair like structures in the middle. So far as I know these don't occur with scale insects, but I am not a biologist so I could be wrong on this. Second, the base material has a greenish cast which makes me wonder if it contains chlorophyll, which makes me think plant, not insect. Fungus? Slime mold? Gall? Something else? You tell me, because I don't know. Click on the picture to see what a couple of people on flickr think.

Let me close out this blog article with one last unknown creature, unknown #5, which is has attached itself (or is attached) near the edge of a sick leaf. Here it is looking maybe like one of those hard-shelled scale insects, but only about 2.8 mm in length.

Unknown #5: scale insect, or snail, or ?? on a leaf

Here is a low magnification microscopic closeup, not clear on top but showing the edges pretty well.

Unknown #5: could it be a fungus?

To me it resembles a fungus, such as might be on a dead or rotting tree, just much smaller, about 1/10 of an inch in length. I pried it off the leaf, which was difficult since it was stuck on pretty well. But, when I looked carefully at the bottom side I saw a few strange leg-like projections. Here is a closeup again my digital camera hand held above the eyepiece of a microscope, set at a low magnification.

Unknown #5: detail showing a strange appendage

What could that be? Do fungi have appendages like that. Admittedly, there were only a few of these in evidence. Maybe it is not a fungus but instead one of those scale insects. Well, as a non-biologist I certainly don't know. If you can ID any of these things, or shed any light on any of them, please comment or email me at jbuddenh at Please mention the unknown by number as shown in the captions under the pictures.