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Tardigrades and polarized light (II)

Frankly speaking, there is a series of potential questions by our readers which we are afraid of. So far we are feeling lucky that no one appears to ask them.
One of those modestly impertinent questions might be:

"Why on earth are you using this ugly Comic font?"

Well, normally this might end up as a tricky subject but, thanks to the internet, we are able to refer to somebody else who will assure you that Comic is exacty the right font for our tardigrade pages!

But now let's go back to our main topic, the polarized light. Before actually making use of the respective switch we should pause for a moment and wonder what we are expecting from this particular illumination.
Polarized light shows strong colour effects with some inorganic crystalline materials and fiber-like bundled structures. And we know that e.g. the tardigrade stylets are said to consist of a hard, possibly crystalline inorganic material, similar to human teeth. So, this material which might reveal specific properties when investigated by means of polarized light. For a start let's look at some of the tardigrade stylets in normal brightfield illumination. Obviously they differ in size, strength and curvature, some of them in addition might come up with tiny morphological specialities:

[ Tardigrade stylets: Macrobiotus hufelandi ]

The eutardigrade Macrobiotus hufelandi has strong, curved stylets and fine stylet springs.

[ Tardigrade stylets: Adorybiotus coronifer ]

The giant eutardigrade Adorybiotus coronifer is equipped with similar strong stylets. In this case the curvature is less pronounced and the stylet springs look quite different from those of Macrobiotus hufelandi shown above.

[ Tardigrade stylets: Milnesium tardigradum ]

The carnivore eutardigrade Milnesium tardigradum comes with comparatively weak stylets and extremely small stylet springs. When looking closer at the photograph you will notice that the stylet springs are resting in stylet sheaths. Possibly Milnesium tardigradum doesn't need strong stylets because it has a tendency to devour its victims as a whole!

[ Tardigrade stylets: Echiniscus sp. ]

This heterotardigrade Echiniscus sp. reveals fine linear stylets, typical for all members of the genus Echiniscus.

[ Tardigrade stylets: Batillipes sp. ]

Batillipes sp., a marine heterotardigrade shows similar stylets as its terrestrial Echiniscus relatives.

[ Tardigrade stylets: Florarctus sp. ]

Once more, similar Echiniscus-style stylets of a marine Florarctus sp. heterotardigrade, but with stronger curvature

So, with some species the stylets and in particular the style springs are not easily visible at low magnifications. The stylet diameters can be as low as a few micrometers (!) which is quite astonishing for a tool which must serve reliably for everyday object piercing and feeding. Hartmut Greven mentions in his tardigrade book that some of those stylets - even though being that much tiny - can be hollow, making use of the physical fact that a tube has similar mechanical properties as a rod of the same diameter.

The chemical composition of the stylets
Many microscopists are using chemicals extensively. For this (brute) reason they happened to find out already long ago that the tardigrade stylets tend to disappear when kept in slightly acidic media. The simple conclusion is that the stylets are made up of some acid-soluble compound. We didn't find respective chemical analyses in the literature yet. But e.g. Hartmut Greven states in his book that the tardigrade stylets appear to consist at least partially of calcite. Possibly this statement goes back to Ferdinand Richter who talked about "stylets consisting of calcium carbonate" (Mikrokosmos, 1908).
Now the question is: how could we possibly make use of polarized light to check the chemical character? In order to do so whe will have to look closer at the properties of calcite from other sources when studied under polarized light. And we will start with this task in the next issue.

Hartmut Greven: Die Bärtierchen. p. 31-33. Wittenberg Lutherstadt 1980.
Ferdinand Richters: Die Bärtierchen (Tardigraden). Mikrokosmos 1 (1908) p. 53-57.

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of the German language monthly magazine  Bärtierchen-Journal . Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.

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