Category Archive: Organism of the week

May 19

Organism of the week #31 – Tardigrades

Tardigrades [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

Tardigrades make me squee. These little relatives of the arthropods and velvet-worms are found in the water around mosses, and they are quite easy to find if you have a cheap microscope and a little patience. Like spiders, they have eight legs, but unlike the legs of a spider, they’re plump and stumpy, and end in the little ‘fingers’ …

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May 19

Organism of the week #30 – Sticky situation

Passiflora foetida bud [CC-BY-3.0 Alex Lomas]

All science is either physics or stamp-collecting. This rather mean-spirited dismissal of chemistry and biology as “stamp-collecting” is attributed to Ernest Rutherford, the physicist usually (not wholly fairly) credited with discovering the atomic nucleus and the proton. Shortly after Rutherford’s death in 1937, particle physicists discovered the muon, pi mesons, kaons, the electron neutrino, the anti-proton, the lambda baryon, xi cascades, and …

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Oct 06

Organism of the week #29 – Galling

Andricus quercuscalicis on Quercus robur [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

Today is the first day of the new (academic) year at $WORK, but – aside from a couple of intro lectures – this is the calm before the real storm, which arrives in the form of a deluge of biological chemistry in November. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a few mugshots of some weird ciliate or other around …

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Sep 17

Organism of the week #28 – Fractal art

Humata tyermannii [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. (Uncle Monty, Withnail and I) Our tiny garden has only passing acquaintance with sunshine, so about the only plants that really thrive in its dingy clutches are shade-loving ferns. This Japanese painted fern is my current favourite: who needs flowers anyway, when leaves look like this? The colour is spectacular, but …

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Sep 06

Organism of the week #27 – Alien haemorrhoids

Magnolia ×soulangeana fruit [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

A quickie this week: magnolia fruit look like something from another planet.

Aug 23

Organism of the week #26 – Oxymoron

Acanthus mollis [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

Plants can have some very odd names. Bears are not renowned for their trousers, and this spiky sod is the last thing anyone would want to make a pair of trousers from, but “bear’s breeches” it is. Even its Latin name is odd: acanthus means spiny, and mollis means smooth; a literal oxymoron. It might not look very familiar, but it may be the …

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Aug 17

Organism of the week #25 – Bull headed

Bucephalus minimus [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

This is another of the things we have found down a microscope in one of our undergraduate practicals, but for once it’s not a ciliate. This is the larva of a parasitic fluke called Bucephalus, which is the Greek for ‘bull headed’. It’s appropriate for this fluke not because it looks like Alexander the Great’s horse, but because …

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Aug 10

Organism of the week #24 – Danse Macabre

Yersinia_pestis [Public Domain, credit: NIH]

For three centuries, the Black Death was routinely epidemic in London. The first outbreak – in 1348 – probably killed half the population of England; the last outbreak – from 1665 to 1666 – probably killed a quarter of the population of London. In 1665, Isleworth was a small village several hours’ walk (or row) from …

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Aug 03

Organism of the week #23 – Rattled

Rhinanthus minor (field) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

My annual summer ritual to stave off death for one more year involves running round Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, which are situated conveniently close to $WORK. I lumbered merry as a shroud. That aches and sweats o’er trails and heights, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden parasites: Yellow rattle is a member of the broomrape family, which …

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Jul 02

Organism of the week #22 – Faking it and making it

Urtica dioica [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]

Nettles have a rather unhappy reputation as bringer of painful welts, and – at this time of year – dribbling noses too. The welts are probably caused by histamine, and the pain by oxalic and tartaric acids, which the nettle injects into your skin through the tiny brittle hairs that cover its stems and leaves. If …

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