Mrs. Malaprop On Organizing A Field Collecting Trip:
Number 23 in the Malaprop Lecture Series
Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
WARNING: This essay is a bit of pure silliness written in the spirit of foolish optimism that this year should be better for all of us than this last year was; so if you’re not in a mood for something silly, you might want to try reading the Oxford English Dictionary instead which should keep you occupied for at least a year.
Note: For those of you not familiar with Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals written in 1775 at the age of 23, he introduced the pompous and linguistically pretentious Mrs. Malaprop who became the epitome of one who misused words in egregious ways and generally abused language. Shakespeare had already used such devices and many writers and comics have subsequently employed them, but Mrs. Malaprop remains, as it were, the grand champagne.
Recently a rather mean-spirited colleague told me that people now have to be paid to come to my lectures in order to insure that the College continues to receive its endowment. I told her in no incertain terms that we all have great fun at these secessions and financial remonstrance would never be necessary. I can tell from the little ripples of laughter that you agree with me. In fact, the overflow crowd was such that an additional room had to be admiralized, no silly me, commandeered and equipped with television monitors.
So, onward and upward. I am focusing here on aquatic collecting. So we are going to need nets, with fine and medium meshes, as well as short- and long-handles; jars, preferably light-weight plastique ones in various sizes, a pocket knife and a sharp hunting knife for trimming long strands of mosses and other aquatic plants, a machete to clear vegetation to get to the glorioso ponds hidden deep in the forest, insect repellent (high strength), an ice chest to keep samples cool for transport back to the lab, a few viles half-full of 5% foramlin so that you can instantly preserve a few select samples. One will also need a back pack for your servant or if you don’t have any, a friend, to transport the relevant items to pond or stream-side. You might also have brought along a pair of waders for your servant or friend if the pond or stream is shallow and gently flowing. Do not by any means don them yourself as you might encounter quicksand or slow mud which is almost as bad. Certainly, life is full of risks and we must remember that we can always hire new servants and find new friends.
1) Never fill a bottle more than half full so that there is plenty of oxygen for the time being until the trip back to the lab. The exception is your Stolichnaya Vodka bottle which should be full to the top when you leave and replenished at every inn which you pass.
2) What exactly are we looking for? Well, there are all kinds of lovely squiggly pond-erous things to put in our jars, so we want to look to collect as wide a variety as possible, everything varying from very tiny wiggilies that we can barely see to those big, ugly hellish grammite beetle larvae. Also, it goes without saying, but I just already said it or maybe I didn’t, an abundance of plant material such as Elodean and Spirogryrate, this ladder to be found in long, stringy, green yucky masses. However no fish; the wardens get very testate about that.
3) Well, after all that exertion, we need to break out the picnic hampers, blankets, shooting sticks, and wine glasses and flasks. And, if a ranger comes along, just offer him some. They are quite decent fellows, you know, and dreadfully underpaid–a couple of fivers inside the sandwich rap never goes amiss.
4) Well, by now it’s time to pack up and head back to the lab so that one can unpack in time for drinks and dinner.
Now, some of you students may have to simplify these genial routines, but you get the general idea and one should be able to obtain some fine samples by using a bit of cumin sense.
Next, in the morning, you need to be up bright and early to check on your samples and to start sorting them. The first thing to do is very carefully sniff each sample. I empathize the need for caution and the impotence of the exercise. I have, on occasion, gotten a sample which included bottom muddle rife with sulfurious bacteria reeking like the bowls of Hell. If you discover such, you can hurl them at your servant who collected them or lacking servants, you can throw wide the window of your room and baptize passing undergraduates.
Next thing on the addendum is to isolate those large nasty beatle larvae so that they don’t eat each other and everything else in site. Then other multicellular dinguses, such as, water lice...Oh, yes, all right. What is it, Professor Homebody? Eh? What’s that? A little louder please. Just inundate a bit more clearly; my hearing is still perfectly good. Oh, yes, fleas. Fleas, it is. Water fleas and water lice. Sotto voce: “Not much bloody difference as far as I can see.” “Thank you so much Professor Peabody for that enightening correction.” And then there are Dairy shrimp–“Oh, not again!: What is it now, Dr. Howler?” “Ah, yes, Fairy shrimp.” And there are the ostracoddels, gastropoodles, cyclopists, etc. “Oh dear, Professor Howitizer is hanging his head. I do hope he hasn’t dozed off.”
Well, we're now down to the samples where we really need to start doing microscopical examinations. First off, we will, of course, want to examine all of those protists that are swimming around in our culture dish agitato (Which is Italian for ‘faster than a potato.” )
My recommendation is to begin with the largest protists which are almost always , usually, and most frequently the big ciliates as they tend to have less tolerance for pollunutants and they generally like plenty of oxygenates. One of the biggest is what I like to call the “rubber band ciliate”. It is thin and band-shaped and its largest species can be over 2000 microns in lengthitude. It’s called Sytrofoamastome, no, that’s not it–“Help me out here, Professor Homburg. What? Ah, yes, genus Spirstomum and these are asexual, so there’s no Sprirostodad. Oh my, Dean Spooner, that was an especially splended Scotch we had after dinner and I’m afraid it went a bit to my head. However, never mind, we’ll renew its acquaintance once this tiresome lecture is over. We’ll have a couple of wee shots–well, not too wee (Ha! That’s a bird, I think) and then I’ll drive back to London. Oh, no need to gasp, my chauffeur will do all the drinking and I’ll drive–ha, no, I’ve got that backwards. So, no worries. So where were we? Yes, Styrofoam, er, Spirostomum. It’s a contractive organism. Modern biologists think that it contracts faster than any other organism known. You’re observing it: it panics, and suddenly it’s only 1/3 the size it was and then it slowly stretches out again. Definitely a performance to see!
There are also some wonderful large colonial flagellates, especially Botox–“Oh, Jumping Jupiter, yes, Dr. Holzhammer. Oh, yes, indeed, Vostok which if my Russian serves me well means ‘East” and it’s also a company that makes watches–so there!” “Eh, er, of course, of course, Volvox and what a splendiferously complexicated and lovely creature it is. It’s a green sphere rotating through the water, a sort of 4-dimensional Ferris wheel. And we humans think we’re sexy; well, we ain’t got nothin’ on Volvox, to use the American vulgate. I won’t go into it here for fear of offending your Oxfordian senilities, but here’s a link where you can read all about it.
There are also large amoebae which you can observe, if you’re able to stay awake.
As for the Sporozoa, forget it, they’re dead dull.
Now, we need to move on up the taxanemic scale or tree or whatever the devil they’re calling it this year. There’s so much pruning and grafting (even in universities, I hear, that it seems like there’s an entire arboretum.)
There are some freshwater sponges which belong to the group called Grossgilla–oh, no, it’s all right, Professor Hackenhooper, I remember it’s called Spongilla, but I quite like my name better–nasty, boring, slimy stuff–not worth bothering with.
After that, as we climb the tree, we get to the squiggly groups. These are things that dart around and call attention to themselves and make quite a fuss–rather like some pusillanimous, pustulating, parsimonious, punktillious, presumptive, professors that I had on my doctoral committee years ago. Now, they’re all deceased–I poisoned them; just kidding, of course. You should notificate that there are some cyanobacteria that in late summer sometime occur in enormous number and are often misdescribed as “algal blooms”. Some produce toxins that affect the neurotic system, others that affect the regal system, and still other that attack the liver. So, if you encounter such, stay away from such lakes during those periods and keep dogs, friends, and amiable colleagues away as well.
Now, I’ll bet you didn’t expectorate all these surprises; lake and ponds and streams are just full of things we never anticipated. Oops, we went down the filogenous tree instead of up it. Well, so up we go to the hoppities and jumpies and jerkies, such as, Daphnia and other cladocerans and the poorly clad-ocerans. Did you know that there are number of species where no males have ever been discovered? You might say that it is a cult of Vestigal Virgins.
When there are lots of wriggly worm-like neamtoads and olligocheats which tend to be slimy–so, the least said the better. And then there are some parasitic ones which are just plain nasty, so for tonight we’ll ignore them and politicians.
You will inevitably find all kinds of fundamentally repulsive insect larvae which transformate into highly annointing adults–we’ll skip over them as well.
So, in consummation, I strongly recommedate that you concentrate on the lovely protists and algae and ignore all the multicelluar riff-raff.
Now, Dean Spooner, let’s go do a little more of the 25 year old Scotch the justice that it deserves.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Published in the December 2019 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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