Birding with microscopes…?

While normally I spend my time looking at big animals, there is a whole world of other things out there.  Last month, I was playing around with some water samples from Little Sugar Creek, just trying to see what was in there and came across this little guy (or girl or neither).  IMG_1533

This little thing is a Rotifer, a very small animal.  It belongs to something we call the meiofauna, though they’re often small enough to be seen only with a microscope.

They are cool, little animals and remarkably complex for something so small.  First of all, they may make up to 90% of the life in the plankton in freshwater areas.

Ricci, C. and M. Balsamo.  2000.  The biology and ecology of logic rotifers and gastrotrichs.  Freshwater Biology 44:  15-28.


This little animal is why I enjoy doing the things I do.   These little animals are common as dirt (well, maybe not quite that abundant, but they’re all over the place) and no one even knows them or recognizes their importance.  As a small filter feeder, these little animals are taking in smaller microorganisms and bacteria.  Ecologically, that means they’re really quite important participants in freshwater environments. In fact, people think that rotifers might be good ecological indicators of the health of freshwater systems.

Gannon, J.E. and R.S. Stemberger.  1978.  Zooplankton (especially crustaceans and rotifers) as indicators of water quality.  Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 97:  16-35.

Does that mean Little Sugar Creek is in good shape?  A couple of rotifers isn’t enough to answer that question, but it is a good start.


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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