Kern's Holler Journal Biology
Under the Microscope, by Ivan Stang

It's already Halloween in a little jar on my dining room table.

Earlier this week I started breeding tiny monsters in earnest so that I'd have plenty of protist-porn to watch through my two microscopes. I have a little jar that started as muddy water and a few rotting leaves from a puddle at the park. I added some scum-water from the newt tank and some dirt from the flower bed. This admixture has been left in the sun on the porch every day. (We have been having 70 degree weather here in Northern Ohio; those blizzards in the midwest aren't touching us yet.)

It is now BROILING with monsters. The monster population is several times as dense as it was two days ago, and there's more variety as well. They range from hideous pulsing things without faces to beautiful flowery things with no faces.

To tell the truth I was hoping for more things with faces. Like water fleas, planarian worms, etc. I plan to scrape up some moss and see if I can find some water bears, because those really ARE hideous little monsters with horrible faces and a disgusting way of moving.

It seems like the smaller these things are, the faster they move. When I first looked through the microscope at first I thought I couldn't see anything. Then it sunk in that the generalized blur I was seeing was in fact zillions of teentsy-tiny, very fast-moving critters.

I still have had no luck in seeing any of them have sex by splitting in twain. When  was about 12 I had one of those lucky moments -- when I first looked through my first microscope at some gutter water, the
very first thing I saw was an amoeba in the process of mitosis. That set my little heart to beating! I have yet to replicate that experience. But then some of these creatures are so miniscule and so fast that they might be self-fucking and giving birth to themselves right in front of me and I wouldn't know it. That's one reason I am going to start hunting slightly larger monsters.

Last year it seemed that every sample I examined had a huge squirming wormish thing in it. Nematodes, or planaria of some kind, I guess. For some reason I have not seen many this year. Maybe because I've been looking at water instead of dirt.

Wei was bitching about some spikey little seeds that get on her clothes from the neighbor's bushes. I inspected some of those spikey seeds through the stereo microscope, and up close they look like Klingon weapons, with nasty-looking rows of teeny hooks. God made those things just so. They use us for sex... they cling to us (and any other animals) so that we carry them far and wide. Exploitative little bastards. And they aren't even animals. They have no eyes, no ears, not even a mouth and anus. All animals, from water bears up to us, are basically torus-shaped. "Donuts." There's a hole in the middle that goes all the way through. Plants don't have that hole. My wife is the plant-lover of the family. She can identify almost any tree or flower. I am the zoologist. I am only interested in things that have that hole through the middle and can move around in the world. Dinosaurs, bugs, goats, live nude girls, etc. As far as I'm concerned plants are for eating or making clothes out of. Boring, at least compared to animals.

Come to think of it, some of my little monsters that I've been breeding are animals but lack that hole in the middle because they kind of absorb the food. But there's still a vaccuole. That's kind of like a mouth, sort of. And they shit, sort of. They don't have much of an anus but they do excrete. They don't really have faces, but some of them are definitely light-sensitive, and they will sure jump back if something pokes at them. And they HUNT. They are always doing that. In some cases they just randomly thrash about until something falls into their food-hole but it's still hunting.

After Wei looked through the microscope tonight and saw that soup of monsters, she said, "This makes me want to never drink or eat anything, ever again." I suggested that she examine some Cleveland city tap-water and see if she could see any animalcules in there -- I don't think she would -- but she is afraid to.

I should go get a jar of Lake Erie next time we're near the shore and see what kind of awful mutated things are in there. I know that's where our drinking water comes from, but it's filtered as hell, and any animalcules that get through, I'm already immune to.

In fact I have made a habit while traveling to drink the local tap water just to DARE anything to make me sick, and also to keep up my immune system, such as it is. I remember one time when I was in NYC. Bleepo told me way too late that I shouldn't drink Brooklyn water. Didn't hurt me a bit. Bring 'em on, I say. I'm not scared of no amoebas. The worst thing they'll do is make me shit water for a week like that one time in Italy. Fucking god damn Roman amoebas.

I will leave you with this sexy passage about Planaria:


"Planaria are hermaphrodites, possessing both testicles and ovaries. Thus, one of their gametes will combine with the gamete of another planarian. This type of gamete fusion is sexual reproduction because it involves the formation and fusion of gametes. In asexual reproduction, the planarian detaches its tail end and each half regrows the lost parts by regeneration, allowing neoblasts (adult stem cells) to divide and differentiate. However, several problems can occur with this, so this does not happen often. Instead, in sexual reproduction, each planarian transports its excretion to the other planarian, giving and receiving sperm. Eggs develop inside the body and are shed in capsules. Weeks later, the eggs hatch and grow into adults. Sexual reproduction is desirable because it enhances the survival of the species by increasing the level of genetic diversity."

And this: