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Tardigrades live - outside (part II, images)

In times of abundant and ubiquituous digital imaging it appears increasingly difficult and challenging to photograph anything unseen before by other people. And, even worse, one will become aware of the fact that almost everything has been photographed by someone else - and mostly better.

Professional photographers tend to notice that some amateurs can sometimes come very close in quality - even though it might take them a few million shots to get things right. And admittedly, there are a few disciplines still reserved for professionals: High speed photography, high-res photographs of moving subjects, studio flash illumination scenarios of huge objects, "arty" king-size portraits and a few more.

At the same time as photographs and photographers are increasing in number it is becoming more and more difficult to earn money by selling photographs. A few decades ago even amateurs could sell photographs which were a little bit off-color or which had some dirt in their blue sky. Today many among us have become avid digital and successful sky-cleaners and corner retouchers.

In times of the megapixel mania it might appear crazy to present 590 pixel images like ours. Nevertheless we are really proud to have a few photographs of scenarios which are not shown elswhere in the internet. Just have a look at the images at the bottom of this page.

Fig. 2 and Fig. 3 are are showing a perfectly new scenario -
as far as we know this was never registered by somebody else before!

A very modest instrumentation was used for those stunning new images. The following photograph depicts the instrument in action, on a moss covered cement wall in the very center of Munich:

[ Modified stereo microscope ]

Fig. 1: Cheap dissecting microscope (30 US $), slightly modified for ground level focusing (cf. the technical description in our previous issue)

It is not possible to represent the actual visual impression due to the modest camera "adaptation" (with the camera objective simply being pressed on one of the eye-pieces). But even though the following images should give you a rough idea of what can be seen. Please keep in mind in addition that any still image camera has its problems with reflective and moving water films: our brain can deal with that - the still image camera cannot. And even at 20fold magnification the tardigrades are really small - in case of Echiniscus just tiny orange spots. But there can be no doubt that we can actually see the tardigrades and follow their live outside, in their natural environment!

[ tardigrades, live, in situ, under the stereo microscope ]

Fig. 2: View through the eye-piece of the modified dissecting microscope. The instrument was placed on a wet cement wall covered by tardigrade-inhabited moss cushions. The red frame is marking the crop as shown in Fig. 3.

Of course the wealthier among the amateurs might ask whether the equipment used must be that much dirt cheap. Would we perhaps be better off with a more expensive instrument, better eye-pieces and a more sophisticated mechanical focusing gear? The answer is: yes of course, it is possible to spend more money. But the equipment will be heavier and its use much less flexible. Besides the damage to the moss landscape will be much bigger when using a heavier instrument. And furthermore, those noble ultra-wide eye-pieces might be much more susceptible to light coming from the side. So our advice is to stick to the cheap equipment. Luxury will be followed by penalty in this case. Don't fall into the "silly money" trap.

But you will need time and patience. We have to look out for the exact amount of wetness, not too much and not to little. And it goes without saying that you should use densely tardigrade inhabited moss cushions for your first experiments. But once you will have seen the tardigrades in their natural environment you will be thoroughly impressed.

[ tardigrades live, in situ, stereo microscope  ]

Fig. 3: detail of Fig. 2. Please keep in mind that the resulting magnification is high and the setup rather unstable. We just pressed the camera objective onto one of the eye-pieces. The actual visual impression was definitely better but nevertheless you will get an idea of the feeling just when looking at the image shown above. The red arrows are marking two (walking!) female Echiniscus tardigrades.

We learnt quite a lot about the tardigrades during those studies. Well, this will be subject of our upcoming December issue. Stay tuned!

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
The 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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