by Maurice Smith & Ken Jones 1997 
          © Ken Jones and Micscape Magazine
One of the most beautiful living forms swimming in our ponds - Volvox: a spinning colony of bright green cells. This article, from Micscape Magazine, introduces you to their stunning presence. All images and video sequences are by the leading amateur microscopist - Ken Jones, whose video work is known by amateurs throughout the UK. 
Algae are simple plant organisms found in all wet environments. They range in size from microscopic forms to the simple macroscopic forms of  'pondweeds', and the large seaweeds. All are interesting to study but microscopists generally agree that one of the most beautiful to behold is Volvox. These are spherical colonies of green cells clinging to a semi-transparent hollow ball of mucilage. A single colony may consist of over 500 cells, each one with a tiny pair of whip-like tails (flagella) - and all cells undulating their flagella in unison,  propelling the colony through the water. 
Very large colonies can exceed 1 mm in diameter and are easily visible to the naked eye. Many will be found to contain daughter cells, and sometime even grand-daughter cells in various stages of development, within the hollow interior of the globe.
Ken Jones, a leading amateur microscopist, specialises in video-filming  pond-life. One of his videos captures the enigmatic and graceful movement of Volvox, and he has kindly allowed us to show some extracts from his film on this page.  
A single Volvox colony spins through the dark waters of a pond. Daughter cells are just visible inside.

A Rotifer has discovered the Volvox colony here on the left. It has penetrated through the mucilage into the hollow interior and is now eating the colony cells - one by one. See how part of the sphere is already missing. It has been consumed by the tiny creature. 

The Volvox here is seen greatly magnified. Look inside the larger one on the left. Can you see the bright green daughter cells inside? Notice the volvox next to it and slightly below contains no such offspring. 

Like worlds within worlds - the daughter cells
can be seen as developing colonial spheres within
the hollow interior of the larger one. 

With all life, irrespective of scale, there is continual struggle and competion for survival. A pond is a miniature cosmos. A diverse range of living forms, both animal and plant, compete for energy supplies, food, space, and other resources. 

Stunningly beautiful, Volvox can be attacked and eaten by tiny microscopic animals like Rotifers - creatures which, although almost invisible to the naked eye, are capable of seeking out their prey. 

You can see the Rotifer attacking the volvox above here again. It is blurred by the speed of its motion through the water as it swoops down - front end, with its gapping mouth, facing downwards towards the bottom of the screen.

The only sure way to enjoy all this action, beauty, and wonder is to get outside to a pond, bring back some pond water, and take a look under a microscope for yourself. It's a whole heap more fun than trying to see them here on our pages through the web. When you get going, you will be able to do what Ken Jones has done and make your own stunning videos for yourself.

  If you are a novice, or not an amateur microscopist, it may be difficult to visualize how Volvox and other spherical colonial algae cells cooperate together. Here, on the right, is an algae colony very similar to the ones above. It's name is Uroglena Volxox. Although you cannot see the flagella in each cell, you can see the indiviual cells themselves as the colony spins.

These colonies are typically up to 500µ in diameter (0.5mm) with each cell approximately 10µ (0.10mm) in length. Unlike the green Volovox, Uroglena cells are normally golden-brown. The video here show the cells more green in colour than they normally would appear under a microscope; this is due to enhancements to the video sequence to make the subject easier to see on our page.

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ALL IMAGES ©KEN JONES 1996/1997 used here by permission in MICSCAPE MAGAZINE 1997
Text and page composition and sounds by Maurice Smith 1997

Ken Jones has created many good quality videos of pond and sea life. If you are interested commercially in video sequences of microscopical life and wish to contact Ken, please email me
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