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Micscape Magazine« Wonder article
by Ken Jones and Maurice Smith 1997
If I were a tiny creature, the size of a single celled amoeba - say, one of the small limax types about 1/20 mm long - the beast above would represent a creature the size of a whale 38 metres in length on my human scale now. But where as the whale would glide towards me in the sea, almost silently, the Rotifer above, would appear and sound entirely different!
Its crowned cilia would seem to spin like massive twin turbines - churning the water, droning and roaring, growing ever louder as I am sucked by the water vortex created, into a gaping mouth and pulped by steel-hard jaws deep within the animal's interior.
Whereas a shark in the sea is an absolute predator and perfect killing machine in my human world, the rotifer represents the equivalent of 'Jaws' at a microscopic level in our freshwater ponds.
And just as sharks come in all shapes and sizes, so too do rotifers. Also known as wheel animalcules, due to many types possessing a ciliated (cilia are like fine hairs - B) region on their head - which looks like a wheel organ and gives an illusion of rotating wheels - rotifers exist in more than 1000 different species. Most are freshwater animals ranging in size from 25Ám to 2 mm in length but several species occur in the ocean.
The one shown right is just in the act of trying to 'suck-in' an even smaller life form, not very clear here - A, which will be instantly crushed by its jaw-like trophi - C, Most forms possess a foot attached to the rear end of the body, and terminating in two or more prehensile toes. The rotifer will use this to fix itself temporarily to the substratum or pond vegetation, often when feeding. Not all rotifers have the wheel-like organ around their mouths.
For example, this one shown right, has a completely different feeding mechanism: a massive mouth opens - where the extreme points - A of the opening are populated with bundles of long fine cilia, used to help 'net' its prey, and funnel it into its interior - B. Amateur Microscopists delight in observing these tiny animals. In all senses of the word, a rotifer is a true creature - some of them even have the capacity to give birth to live young. All of the different types exhibit behaviour fascinating to watch, and still little is known about their life routines and progress.
Some people (certainly not amateur microscopists) would wonder about the significance of animals so small. Most people never get to think or realize that if the rotifers died out as a life form, or any of the other microscopical creatures, than it would have a massive impact on both the planet and the larger life-forms inhabiting it (us!).
There is a link in all living forms... a balance which ensures the number of predators remains at a certain level and the prey at a different but equally consistent population. If something happens to affect one living thing, it can have a knock-on consequence which can ripple up the food chain, or even alter the entire global ecology.
In relative terms, Rotifers represent a higher life form than many other microscopic pond dwellers. Some of them seem to be able to detect their prey in the water either by physical movement or by chemical signals. In many ways, they are a highly developed animal - akin to the relative difference between a shark (or a whale) and that of its food supply in a macro world.
Many microscopists already explore the behaviour of rotifers but the world could do with many others discovering and exploring creatures like this to learn just how they contribute to the survival of life in general. Many secrets await discovery, too few people to date realize the importance of a world normally out of sight and out of mind. For any budding amateur scientist, here then is a creature which can be extracted from most local ponds, brought home for study under a microscope, and many things learnt which will have long-standing value and significance to the knowledge of our world and our place within it.
Ken Jones is an amateur microscopist living in the UK who has realized this remarkable insight. His stunning videos and dedicated work has captured these creatures on video film for all to see. If you have never looked at one of these creatures through a microscope, you will never realize how living animals and their range of shapes and behaviours extend far beyond the more-known and familiar world of creatures we encounter in our everyday lives. The world grows smaller. Opportunity to be stunned and exhilarated by fresh discoveries, and to obtain fresh perspectives, dwindle as the world shrinks.
Amateur Microscopy is not a pursuit for those who would prefer to close their eyes and dream of perpetual holidays doing nothing important. It is a pastime for all people who would consider the mystery which still surrounds our existence, the Universe, and the part that 'Life' has to play in its unknown development. For those of you who would wish to see your life as an opportunity to explore everything in it to the full, and to find a single aspect to set your mind racing with ideas and help satisfy a yearning to be part of significant exploration into the way life is maintained and developed, microscopy is the window of opportunity for you to accomplish your aim.
Take a look again at what a rotifer is and ask yourself a single question: what is its importance? View a low quality streaming video of Ken's high quality Rotifers
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ALL MATERIAL (C) MICSCAPE MAGAZINE OR ITS CONTRIBUTORS 1997 Video sequences copyright Ken Jones 1995 - 1997 and used here by permission.