Much Moss

My little sister and I both happen to love moss. So, we went on a moss gathering trip up the canyon by our home. We live in a desert, so I was doubtful whether we would find more than a few small clumps. But searching by a mountain stream, we found more than enough to make a small moss terrarium and fairy garden.

The moss is pretty easy to take care of. I just mist it with water twice a day. I use the dechlorinated water that my sister uses for her hermit crabs, just to make sure the moss is happy. It is planted on potting soil, with some rocks in the bottom for draining. The lid is important for keeping the moisture in.

Since then, I’ve been noticing moss everywhere. Peeking out of cracks in fences, crawling up tree trunks, hiding in grass. It’s magical stuff, and those who believe in it, see it.

Try saying this three times fast: Ma’s moss moths must miss mist.

The Hunter-gatherer Inside

The prey darts back and forth, in and out of my narrow window of vision. I patiently wait. A patch of moss seems like a likely spot for the creatures to be foraging, so I slowly adjust my viewing angle.

There! Wriggling furiously, a plump victim appears. I make sure it isn’t about scurry away before I take my eye off the lens.

“Got one!” I whisper.

My brother puts his eye to the glass, aims, and pulls the trigger.

Click.

Click click click.

“Yeah! Nice one!”

We have just captured our prey–on camera. We now have several photos and videos of wriggling microbes that, try as I might, were not visible to the naked eye. The trick was my microscope, which can magnify up to 400x, though the critters were visible at 100x.

I wanted to find some tardigrades, which are super resilient and surprisingly detailed creatures. They are nicknamed “water bears,” and they have a striking resemblance to bears and manatees. I didn’t find any, but I did find some rotifers, which look similar.

To get the critters, I soaked some dry moss in water and kept the water after taking the moss out. I left the baggie of water on my desk for a week, since I never got around to pulling out the microscope. When I finally did, I was delighted at the fauna I could see.

Using a microscope can be exciting, but it definitely takes practice. It is tricky to use the focus when viewing critters in water; since they can swim up and down as well as side to side, you have to keep one hand on the focus knob to keep a wriggly subject in focus. Moving the slide is also counter-intuitive: push the slide to the right, and the image moves to the left. Finally, if you want to view a water droplet at 400x, the lens gets so close to the slide that it touches the water.  If you can handle all that, then you’re ready to juggle a camera pressed to the eyepiece as well, to get footage like the following:

I may not be a hunter-gatherer, but I still like hunting and capturing. Even if it’s just a little tardigrade.