on a recent beach stroll on the northern new south wales coast, i came across small weird-looking blue-and-white creatures with lots of appendages. having washed ashore, they looked more like unshapely blobs, but as soon as they got into a bit of water, they unfolded into a beautiful combination of shape and colour.
common names of this creature (glaucus atlanticus) are blue dragon, sea swallow or blue angel. [more...]
i’ve always been fascinated by bioluminescent phenomena. in a relatively wide range of organisms, evolution at some point produced species that can produce light, from marine plankton in warm seas, to fireflies, to the famous deep sea anglerfish.
lesser known is the fact that damp wood can also give off a very faint glow in the forest at night. the bioluminescence in this case is produced by fungi, whose mycelium as well as fruiting bodies glow faintly. it is believed that this helps attract insects that will disperse their spores.
a recent research trip to the daintree rainforest in far north queensland, australia, gave me a first opportunity to see bioluminescent fungi. [more...]
the tiny plant below is a stone plant seedling (aizoaceae), growing in the harsh conditions of the “knersvlakte” quartz gravel landscape in north-eastern south africa. the seedling has only formed its first pair of cotyledons, which are already completely covered in epidermal bladder cells:
bladder cells are modified trichomes (hair-like structures) common in the stone plant family (aizoaceae), which are used to remove salt from the plant system.
to give you a better sense of scale, here’s the same view plus my index finger tip: [more...]
stellate parenchyma is a form of aeration tissue (aerenchyma) in plants, which helps with internal air circulation in plants. the tissue is typical of aquatic and wetland plants, and consists of cells with large intercellular spaces that allow air supply to underwater plant parts.
due to the very narrow depth of field at high magnification, the picture is actually a focus stack of 22 combined layers. to get a feeling for the three-dimensional structure of this anatomical section, check out the animation below: [more...]
the common smoothcap moss (atrichum undulatum) features transversely undulate leaves, but its most prominent feature are the long, distinctly beaked capsules that are borne on 3 cm long, reddish setae.
the species is also called catherine’s moss in english, and wellenblättriges katharinenmoos in german.
species details via Farbatlas Flechten und Moose (Wirth, Düll)
spider wasps (pompilidae) are – in a nutshell – really badass insects.
to provide food for their larvae, these wasps go hunting for spiders that are usually bigger than themselves. spiders are paralysed, placed in a small burrow or tunnel, and used as fresh food for a single egg/larva that is laid into them just before the nest is closed.
carrying something around that’s heavier than yourself is obviously quite a bit of work. here’s a short image sequence which shows how the wasp hauls its prey across the ground: [more...]
here’s a picture from the stubai alps, taken recently near oberiss in tirol. it shows a mosaic of crustose lichens, fighting for space on silicate rock.
lichen identification can be very difficult, even for specialists, but there’s one very easy to identify species prevalent in the picture: [more...]