Cyclops and Hydra


I’ve spent a lot of my summer looking at the sorts of creatures that inhabit freshwater ponds and creeks. Of these, my favorite are the cyclops and the hydra. Cyclops look like tiny darting white dots to the naked eye, but the microscope reveals a lot of color and patterning in their bodies. I found this one darting around in the sample of water from a creek in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It was not alone; other cyclops swam around with it, along with a few dozen clam shrimps and many protozoa.

Earlier in the summer, I found this hydra completely by accident, attached to the branch of a freshwater plant. Since childhood I have been obsessed with hydras, but never had the opportunity to observe one before now. No larger than a centimeter or so in length, this one extends its tentacles into a drop of water in search of smaller creatures to eat. Looking at it under a scope gives us a chance to see the cells of its outer body and the anatomy of its gut; it also gives us a chance to compare its cells to the cells of the plant it’s connected to.

It strikes me as funny how many of these creatures I look at have their names taken out of mythology. Odysseus fought the cyclops, and of course, the Hydra, with its toxic breath and weakness to fire  called to mind the fear the ancient world had of microbes and diseases, their seemingly magical ability to live through all but the most scathing cures. So that people discovering these critters as we awoke to the scientific revolution observed the strangeness of their forms and called to mind creatures from the distant human imagination.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Your words are as beautiful as the images and videos you shared. That’s an incredibly thoughtful words. I often think about the “monster soup” of creatures – strange firms that created almost a sense of terror in early ages since these forms are so alien to our human experience. Maybe by bringing to light their mere existence and making it so apparent that the world we live in is shared with these alien inhabitants; we might (just might) someday name things for not the horror but the wild imaginations (of Evolution) that they really are.

    Keep exploring – you work inspires many people in the Foldscope community. So I want to say thank you.


  2. Matt.Rossi says:


    Thank you for the kind words. I’ve been enjoying a whole summer of looking at the small corners of the world (and usually finding something there worth seeing), so it’s a pleasure to have time to share.

    You’re right that the more we look at these creatures, understand that our place is a part of a greater system of life, the more they become part of our sense of the normal and less the monsters we think they are. When I teach composition, I’m a big fan of the essay “Monster Culture” by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, in which he talks about how we create monsters to police the borders of our culture and our sense of the real. It’s interesting, then, that these tiny creatures, named for the monsters of old, live somewhere on the border of what we want to be real in the world. But, of course, the more we accept them as part of our world, the less monstrous they become, and the more interested and engaged we can become in the relationship of their ecosphere and ours.

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