Loch Ness micro-monsters. (Diatoms)

A few weeks ago, Julie F. shared with me another bottle of water sample that her generous friend Kathy had brought. This time the sample was from Loch Ness (Lake Ness) in Scotland. If you recall, this is the same duo who had previously shared samples from the Ganges River in India.

Kathy seems to have collected the water from near the Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, and as I stated my foldscoping session, I was giddy with excitement. I find the whole concept quite unbelievable- I am sitting thousands of miles away, but am teleported as a naturalist exploring a completely different place, not knowing what I may discover! Crazy!

Ofcourse I did some Google mapping to get my mind into the zone of the place I was getting ready to explore. I virtually walked around and imagined where Kathy might have stepped at the edge of the banks to scoop up some water.

Now, if you look closely at the samples, you’ll notice they are remarkably clear, making me worried that I may not find anything in it. But I hoped for the best. In taking water samples, I used a long straw to pick up particulate that had settled on the base of the bottle. I had to do some tricks of putting drops on slides and subsampling to ensure I had sufficient concentration, and as you will see, after a few empty slides, I got lucky.

I found trapped in a tuft of algae (?), hundreds of diatoms. Of multiple shapes!!

I will now tell you the 2 most crazy monsters I saw- that really surprised me- and were special.

The first is a radiolarian- a tiny sun surrounded by sharp silica spikes that it uses to ensnare unsuspecting ciliates and rotifers. I have always wanted to see one with my own eyes after seeing gorgeous pictures from Haeckel’s books, so this was a delight!

And the second was this monstrous, roller coaster of a diatom. Watch the video to appreciate how it curves and twists in a never-ending fashion. I’m imagining tiny baby ciliates and bacteria going up and down on it for amusement 🙂

Thanks again to Julie and Kathy for enabling this fun weekend exploration. Keep the samples coming 🙂

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Wow wow wow. That’s an incredible post @saad. Just the idea that you would have samples from another side of the ocean is just so amazing. This radiolara travelled a lot for someone to notice.

    You should also train your guests (Kathy and co) so they can also do field imaging. I have a kit if you need one.

    Inspired by reading this today. Wow. Roller coaster – that’s an incredible image.


    1. Saad says:

      That’s a great idea. I will train Kathy (if she is game) specially since she and Julie inspire kids at the Lucile hospital.

      Manu, do you have any comments on id for the roller coaster diatom? And why it would grow so long? I hadn’t expected such flexibility from diatoms (curvature)…

  2. Manu Prakash says:

    I am planning to run a workshop at Lucile hospital. Let’s go together – it’s been long overdue.

    @janet should be able to identify the rolller coaster. Often diatoms are found in chain links – and if collected carefully maintain the links. It’s believed (Prof Mark Denny gets credit) that chain links increase stokes drag of diatoms while they sink. We can talk more about this tomorrow 🙂 we are re-doing some of those experiments.


  3. laksiyer says:

    Always wanted to see a Radiolarian do something. Want to figure out how to culture those. The roller-coaster diatom looks like Fragilariopsis. It really fires up your imagination to think that this is from the Loch Ness lake. We at least know what is there 🙂

  4. Saad Bhamla says:

    @laks – thank you – yes – you may be right on the ID.

  5. Janice says:

    Hi Saad,

    Nice pictures of diatoms! The ones in chains are from various genera. The zig-zag colonies are probably Tabellaria fenestrata or Tabellaria flocculosa. Not enough detail to say which one. The non-zig-zag colonies are probably Fragilaria capucina or Fragilaria crotonensis or perhaps another fragilarioid genus (such as Pseudostaurosira, Staurosirella, or Staurosira…perhaps others). The chain of cylindrical diatoms (just above the radiolarian [great picture–see: https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v1/n7/pdf/001189c0.pdf%5D) are probably Aulacoseira. All are planktonic and grow in colonies to help with buoyancy to remain within sunlit waters to photo synthesize.

    The long stick-like diatoms in clumps are not colonial and are synedroid diatoms–not enough detail to say which genus. These diatoms are also planktonic.


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