Rot in Action

As things progress in the marine habitat, as creatures settle in and pass on, I’m starting to turn my attention away from the free floating citizens of the jar and toward the benthic residents on the ground (though I suspect all of my residents are technically benthic, since they come from a tidal pool).

As creatures die, the natural course of things, is, of course, that they rot. At a distance, rot seems like a terribly passive process. The slow decay of a vegetable left out too long, perhaps. But, of course, it’s tremendously active when viewed up close. I realized this recently when a floating bit of dross from the surface of the water revealed itself to be as active and crawling with creatures as a watering hole.

Viewed in high magnification, you can see the whole surface seems to move, it is so densely packed with creatures.

In the other jar, while I wait for the nudibranchs to grow, I wanted to see what has become of their egg cases, now that they are hatched. The protein base that makes up the gel of the casing would surely be a rich source of food for other creatures. Sure enough, a look at the eggs reveals a population of marine worms devouring the used up eggs. In this video, you can see them working their way through the individual eggs. I get a clear look at one of the undeveloped eggs, at the worm’s body.

The sheer number of worms in the tank is actually a bit alarming. There seems to have been a population boom of a sort I wasn’t expecting, and that I hope doesn’t a) kill the prospect of baby nudibranchs living in the tank and b) doesn’t indicate a severe imbalance in the tank. My stance is, as it has always been, that I will allow the system to continue as it wants without my intervention. For now, that means some populations will flourish, others will not. And always there will be agents of rot.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. laksiyer says:

    And the elements from one are passed on to the other. Death for one is life for another.
    @Matt: What brilliant videos and what a brilliant post. It would be interesting to see if the nematodes parasitize the nudibranchs. Looks out for that, although they might just be detritus eaters.

    It would be great if you could count the different types of ciliates you have observed and catalog them, I have already come across ciliates that are not there in textbooks and I see many unique types in your videos. @Manu It is time one starts systematizing these. Perhaps we can preserve motion tracks for each of these in some central location and annotate them as we go along.

  2. laksiyer says:

    This post reminds me of a quote by the famous geneticist W.D. Hamilton, who wrote on his intended burial post-death.

    ‘”I will leave a sum in my last will for my body to be carried to Brazil and to these forests. It will be laid out in a manner secure against the possums and the vultures just as we make our chickens secure; and this great Coprophanaeus beetle will bury me. They will enter, will bury, will live on my flesh; and in the shape of their children and mine, I will escape death. No worm for me nor sordid fly, I will buzz in the dusk like a huge bumble bee. I will be many, buzz even as a swarm of motorbikes, be borne, body by flying body out into the Brazilian wilderness beneath the stars, lofted under those beautiful and un-fused elytra which we will all hold over our backs. So finally I too will shine like a violet ground beetle under a stone.”

  3. Matt.Rossi says:

    My word, that’s a great quote. I’m going to have to note it for later inspiration. Above you mentioned identifying each ciliate. But how does one do that? I assume body shape and arrangement of cilia has something to do with it, but what else? How would I know if I were observing a new species or one new to me?

  4. Manu Prakash says:

    @matt: what an incredible post. It’s like a buffet. Both for its variety and its ferocious feast. The high mag video is one of the best Foldscope video at high mag I have seen. Fantastic find.

    @Laks and @Matt: yes – it’s time to put our combined attention (the three of us) on ciliates. As we start cataloging them in a single place and create an infrastructure for organizing them in many ways; others can follow. At lab meeting today; I was laying out a plan and recruiting 3-4 more students to focus just on this. I believe; this would be an incredibly rich exercise.

    @Matt; I will make a post about making projections from videos – so trajectories of some of them could be recorded. Give rise to “some” unique signatures from each. I am also trying to figure out a way to make small jail for ciliates so they can be observed for longer.

    Lastly, I am trying to figure out a slide making protocol where after a sealed slide has been imaged – could it be possible to sequence a series of samples. This would be the first one to one map of sequence and phenotype.

    Just to reiterate the point that Laks made – here is a tree of eukaryotic life; I absolutely love this tree (and how little we know)..

    An example:


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