Save the Western Ghats: The Invasive species problem

The Western Ghats are a 1000 mile long mountain range running along the west edge of India and are one of the hotspots of biological diversity. I spent my childhood in these hills in a small town (Panchgani) with tales of tigers, hunters, hyenahs and cobras. Even 30 years ago, the region I lived in was…

An inchworm

I had just plucked an enormous sweet-smelling Southern magnolia flower to study its pollen, when I spotted an inchworm within the flower. What a fascinating mode of locomotion. This larva is from the Geometer moth family. Geometers appear to measure the earth and hence their name.   I put he larva under the foldscope with the dorsal surface…

Pollen Hunters project-II : Pollen roster

Update 6/6/2016. Made the table scrollable for computers and phones. I took help from this page. Update 4/20/2016. Reducing column numbers to fit new format Update 11/2/2015. Added Contributors column. Update (10/2/2015): Added plants that were observed in India, in August 2015. I also have an extensive analysis of trichomes of the Indian plants. Please visit here…

A catalpa flower and its thrip

The best thing about hunting for the unknown is seeing the unexpected.  I was on a morning walk through the woods in my area scouting for flowers when suddenly I saw over a 100 flowers strewn on the path. The flowers were orchid-like, white with purple streaks with orange/yellow spots,  and were really pretty to behold. After…

The ABCs of flowers

The pollen roster project has occupied all my microscopy time, but the journey has opened my eyes to many aspects of plant biology and this post reports one such. A couple of shrubs started blooming in my neighborhood about 2 weeks ago. The flowers were white and looked to be of the Azalea family. I drew near…

Face to face with a sub-mm insect

I was investigating the pollen of a really interesting mutant Azalea (I shall describe that in a separate post). While scanning the field of the slide, my eyes fell upon this immature insect. With the naked eye, it looked like a little spec and so I couldnt spot it in the first place. I showed…

Pollen hunter project–III- Investigating pollen size with a scale

I was displaying my pollen slides to kids around my place and one of them, all of 5 years, who measures everything with a scale asked , “How small are they?”. I mumbled my way through deftly, ignoring the question but it rang for a while in my head after. Measurement is an integral part of science…

Trichomes and pollen

Manu informed me through this aricle that May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.  If you are the fortunate few who dont suffer pollen allergies, then May should be a very happy Foldscope month in the north east US. I have never enjoyed studying pollen as much as I did this year and continue…

Bitten by a tick

The coming of spring brings great joy to natural history lovers in the northeastern US, although there is one scourge who is also very active around this time and no one’s favorite– The tick. While ticks per se are just a minor nuisance, the diseases they transmit are quite dangerous especially if untreated. In particular the DC…

Pollen Hunter project– exploring a staining protocol

Continuing from my previous post, I have now begun foldscoping pollen from various flowers. After the first trials, I even posted pictures from my first 9 flowers. However, I was greatly bothered that the pollen morphology seemed to change after staining. In particular post-staining they mostly looked spherical. I admit that the staining protocol I used…

Monitoring microscopic air-borne allergens using Foldscope

Come Spring in the north-east of USA and life springs back on board. The fury with which which leaves, trees, ponds, insects, birds break out everywhere is a joy to behold. Poems about the cuckoo heralding spring (Thrice welcome, darling of the Spring!… by Wordsworth), come flooding to mind. For me however, the heralding of Spring…

Spider mites on my houseplants

I have a Cestrum nocturnum (Raat ki Rani in hindi) plant whose fragrant flowers I greatly prize. The North-east US winters, which seems to be never-ending this year, are when I get it indoors. Recently, the plant looked very sick and started dropping leaves rapidly. On close inspection the leaves showed a stippling, as though…

Microbiology of Idli and Dosa

Prelude: I thought I was going to write a post on the microbiology of the Idli, but I worry this reads more like a cooking post. Apologies for the rambling, but I write for reproducibility and as a record for myself. The Idli and Dosa (also Dosai/Thosai) are popular fermented foods that originated in the…

Alga in my filtered water

I was about to take a swig from my large flask of filtered water (these Brita flasks have a filtering system as their top), which I keep by my window, when suddenly I noticed a green sheen at the bottom, an unexpected foldscope problem. I drained all the water and scraped the sheen out with…

Bathroom mildew

I saw some mildew growing in my bathroom caulking. I am calling this a mildew as it isnt woolly or downy. These sticky fellows use the bathroom caulking as substrate and break it down over time. Bleaching them out is the only way to clean the caulking. Since I had the unenviable task of getting rid of…

Foldscoping a probiotic tablet — Brownian motion of yeast

As I was clearing my medicine cabinet I noticed a poorly used bottle of a probiotic formulation mainly containing the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii and several bacteria found in dairy. I remembered that the tablet’s size was a big deterrent and it occupied my cabinet untouched for many years and so I suspended a few small grains…

Brownian motion using milk

Brownian motion is a fascinating aspect of life. Did you read the wonderful post in the microcosmos forum on this (click here)? My fascination with Brownian motion started when I learnt about the cell. It fascinated me when I thought as to how various molecules find each other in the cell protoplasm. When I read  about how mRNA…

Two animals, a fungus and a houseplant — Part III The Fungus Gnat

In the veritable ecosystem of my Bilva plant  (see previous posts I, II), there is yet another set of inhabitants who lives in the soil, and are more of an irritant to the denizens of the household  than to the host  plant. They often get in your face, or attain moksha (their end)  in your morning juice and tomato soup. They…

Two animals, a fungus and a houseplant — Part II The fungus

Continuing from my previous post, we now move on to the fungus associated with the scale insect. For this, I just cut a piece of the leaf with the black sooty material and put it on a slide and taped it with a cellophane tape.Unlike the scale insect views, which were the best I have…

Two animals, a fungus and a houseplant — Part I. The scale insect

Anyone who tends houseplants indoors knows the risk of inviting other uninvited guests — in particular various arthropods and fungi. However, with a foldscope this transforms into new material for investigations. I have been growing a wood-apple tree (called Bilva in India; Aegle marmelos) for a few years now. This is a very popular and hardy tree in the Indian…

The Moss in my backyard

It is freezing in the North-east US and one of the days it almost stopped school. Even in this seemingly uninspiring weather, there is a life form which is flourishing — the almost unseen moss. A moss patch between a bush and a wall in a nice dark and moist place was pointed out to…

Experiments with blood-II. Staining white Blood Cells

A common refrain I read in articles by amateurs is that every microscopist should at least have eosin Y and methylene blue on their shelves. Methylene Blue is commonly sold by aquarium shops and eosin Y can easily be  obtained at a small price (I bought it on the internet).  My previous attempt to stain blood smears with alcohol fixing…

Experiments with Blood

I was gifted my first bulb microscope at 8. It was a simple microscope but gave fascinating views of the unknown. One of my companions in crime pushed a pin in his finger and dropped some blood onto the only slide that came with the microscope. We fought and took turns to see if we could…

Baker’s Yeast at 100x

Every day millions and millions of loaves of various types of bread are made and eaten around the world, and historical evidence suggests its consumption in the neolithic age (10,000 BC). Many types of bread, especially those consumed in the west, are leavened using a type of fungus called Saccharomyces cerevisiae (also called Baker’s Yeast). For leavening,  the…

Cheek cell-spread movies

Cheek cells stained with Methylene blue as in the previous post. The staining wasnt uniform at all and you can see precipitation in places. The non-stained cells provide gorgeous views of their details when in focus. Perhaps it is wiser to make videos and choose your best frames for nice pictures.     Below is…

Cheek cells

These are among the easiest samples to study.  For this slide, I took a Q-tip/cotton bud and removed the cotton tip and swabbed my cheeks about 3-4 times gently. On a slide I put a drop of 1% Methylene Blue that I bought off the internet and mixed the end that I swabbed my cheek with…

Onion cells stained with Carbol Rose Bengal

My childhood favorite wet mount is the onion “skin”. The late Walter Dioni had many nice articles on it and how to prepare a good sample.  For example, see http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artnov03/wdonion.html The preparation was done rather carelessly but I was too excited to try out my Foldscope. The epidermis preparation was stained with a drop of…