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Microscopic Critters of Guam

by Brenna Lorenz

    This page is devoted to the freshwater microfauna of Guam. We have the BEST microorganisms! If you live on Guam and you have access to a microscope, get to know these micro-critters yourself! All drawings on this page are by Brenna Lorenz unless otherwise indicated, and are pictures of the living organisms as they appear under the microscope.

Photograph of Ricky's Bridge and the water-testing tower by Madog River.
    I have already mentioned the Madog River that flows through Umatac, beneath the fancy Spanish-style bridge that Ricky Bordallo built when he was governor of Guam. Click here to view another photograph of the beautiful Madog River.In addition to the big animals that live there, the carabao and the friendly pig, the toads and their offspring (all of whom you can read about on Critters of Guam), the gray fish, the white eels, and the shrimp, the lush waters of the Madog River are home to a glorious array of microscopic organisms.

    Since Supertyphoon Paka, the Madog River has been very much rearranged. It used to be possible to follow it up one branch or another all the way up into the mountains. But debris washed down from the highlands has produced an impenetrable tangle of mud, dead vegetation, and unfriendly new live vegetation that has plenty of thorns and aggressive seeds, and that tends not to grow vertically. The river seeps through all of this in a diffuse oozing of water until it reasserts itself as a normal stream in its main channel.

    I collected some of the water from the stagnant parts, along with some algae and some mud from the bottom. Although I tried to avoid collecting tadpoles, I ended up with three. They were too numerous to avoid, and when I tried to skim them out of the jar, they burrowed into the stuff at the bottom. It was too bad. They were dead by the next morning. The next time I collected some water there, however, the tadpoles fared better. Some of them are still alive.

    I brought the water to Animal Diversity lab, where the students were starting the semester with a look at Protozoa.

    I have often said that the best pond water I have ever seen is the stuff from the duck pond behind Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. That is indeed excellent pond water. But Madog River water is just as good, maybe even better!  Here are some of our Guam freshwater microorganisms:


Sarcodines (Amoeba)

    Click here to view the drawings of  Sarcodines not shown in the article.
Image of Actinophrys    In Madog River, we find Sarcodines, those animalcules that move by means of pseudopods. At first, all we could see were the little ones with the burst of rays sticking out, the Heliozoa. These are incredibly gorgeous creatures. One Heliozoan looks like a grainy green disc surrounded by colorless, clear cytoplasm, from which the  axopodia (rays) emerge. I think that one is Acanthocystis. Another one, small with a colorless, bubbly-looking interior, is Actinophrys. A larger, more irregular, colorless, bubbly-looking one is possibly Actinosphaerium. Recently we have been finding the stalked heliozoan-like sarcodine, Clathrulina, whose cytoplasm is encased in a lattice composed of silica.

    Later, the culture exploded with two kinds of shelled amoebae, one of which is plain old Arcella, probably Arcella hemisphaerica, the round brown one that looks a little like a donut because of the light area in the middle. But Madog's Arcella is more active than usual, and it is actually possible to see its skinny little pseudopods. The other shelled amoeba is much more ornate. It is a light golden brown color, with a crenulated and faceted shell. Under high power, the shell has a lacy, pitted appearance. This one is perhaps Arcella gibbosa. This amoeba, too, is gracious enough to provide the viewer with a view of its pseudopods, and if you can manage to trap one on its back, you can look inside its shell and see its protoplasm moving around in there. Most recently, we have found one (only one) enormous Arcellid (Arcella dentata) with a magnificent array of seventeen curved spines decorating the perimeter of its shell.

    As the culture ages, we start to see more of Difflugia, a kind of sarcodine that lives in a grainy-looking, sac-shaped test from which its narrow pseudopods emerge. Another amoeba, possibly related, is an enormous, robust creature with a dirty, shaggy-looking spherical test. This amoeba has thick, pale green pseudopodia.

    Most recently, we have seen the emergence of a beautiful shelled sarcodine called Euglypha. The shell is glass clear and covered with glassy shingles. From this vase-shaped test emerge five long, elegantly-curved spikes. The Euglyphae here on Guam have longer spikes than the typical Euglypha.

    Finally, there are a number of small, plain naked amoebae, almost certainly Tubulines. One looks like good old Amoeba proteus, only smaller. This one is your standard amoeba that sends out lots of stubby, fast-moving pseudopods and is constantly changing shape and direction of movement. Perhaps it is Metachaos. Another is a fixed shape and has a definite front and back end. It moves by bulging slightly at the front end and flowing into the bulge. This one is possibly Saccamoeba. Most recently, we found a large, long-limbed amoeba that might actually be the famous Amoeba proteus. Then we got swarms of spiky-looking naked amoeba.

    Click here to view the Sarcodine drawings.


    These are particularly abundant in the water of Madog River. Click here to view Ciliates not shown on this page.


    We find Paramecium, the standard text-book protozoan, a flexible, lively, light brown slipper-shaped ciliate that rushes around through the water droplet unless it has stopped to graze on the debris. Madog River water passes through a ciliate explosion phase about two to four weeks after it is collected.  During ciliate max-out, the water droplet on the slide will be dense with paramecia and other ciliates. After being on the slide for awhile, the paramecia form a line around the edge of the cover glass, all lined up perpendicular to the edge, as if peering out past the edge of their universe.


    We find Vorticella, of course. These are the hyperactive little bell-shaped ciliates that have a long stalk connecting them to some substrate. They coil up their stalk and pucker up whenever they are startled, which happens a lot. If one breaks free of its substrate, it swims in frantic circles, trailing its stalk. Lately we have seen a lot of Vorticella dividing. In the books, they always show a little bud growing off the side of a big Vorticella, but I never see that. They start out looking like they have been stretched out sideways, and then they split into two equal-sized bells connected at the base to one stalk..

    We also find the colonial Vorticella equivalent, Zoothamnium, in which the individuals are arranged like a branching tree, and the whole colony contracts at once.

Urocentrum turbo Image of Urocentrum turbo

    We find Urocentrum turbo. This is a ciliate protozoan that looks like an acorn with a spike coming off-center out of a dimple at the bottom. The protozoan constantly spins around like a top, which I guess is why they call it "turbo."  They seem to have no preference for either clockwise or counterclockwise spin direction. This is a fun organism to see, and to make it even better, these guys were dividing like crazy when we first spied on them through our microscopes. When a Urocentrum turbo first starts to divide, it looks like it has a roll of fat around the middle. You notice that it has three lumps instead of two. When it's just about finished, the two new Urocentrum turbos are hooked together side-by-side, connected by a curved bridge of protoplasm connecting their caps. The whole thing is horseshoe shaped and very confused, unable to spin and not having much luck traveling, either. Megaera and Malachi and I think that a giant-sized Urocentrum turbo would make a great monster for the Godzilla series. Are you listening, Toho?


    We find Frontonia. These are big (huge!), brown, elliptical, plush-looking ciliates that resemble Paramecium somewhat, but are bigger and not slipper-shaped. When we first looked at the Madog water in Animal Diversity lab, the Frontonia were all full of stuff that looked like straw. Since then, they have digested whatever that was and have been eating stuff that is less distinctive. The second week, I found two Frontonia conjugating. In all my years of looking at pond water, I had never seen protozoans actually in the act of conjugating. I had read about it, of course, and seen diagrams, drawings and photographs, but seeing it with my own eyes was very exciting. So I said to all the students, "Hey, everyone, come look at these Frontonia! They're conjugating!" Not a single student got up to look. Their professor had told me that she had lectured on conjugation that morning, but apparently the implications hadn't sunk in yet. So I said, "Come on, you guys! These Frontonia are having sex!" Instantly, I had a long line of students waiting to peek through my microscope. One student stared for a long time. Then she said, "I can't see anything." I looked to make sure that the mating couple was still in the field; they were. "They're still there," I told her. (Considering how big they are, they're hard to miss!) "But they're not doing anything," she said. "They're just swimming around stuck together." Lately some of our Frontonia have been going around sporting an enormous vacuole in their middles, easily a third of their total size. And the other day I got to see a Frontonia engulf an algal strand, sucking it in like a person eating spaghetti. The algal strand was slightly longer than the Frontonia, but that didn't seem to cause any problems.


Image of Euplotes    We find lots of Euplotes. These are stiff, spiky ciliates that look oval-shaped from the top, but are convex when viewed from the side. Their cilia are fused into cirri that serve it as legs. When they crawl around on the debris, they look distinctly insectlike. In the same drop of water that had the conjugating Frontonia, we found some conjugating Euplotes. That's an interesting sight, considering how spiky they are!

Spirostomum Image showing many different forms of Spirostomum as described in the text.

    We find Spirostomum. These are big, long, dark brown, cigar-shaped ciliates that scoot around very fast. Their cilia are arranged in an attractive, longitudinal spiral pattern. This pattern and the lack of eyespots help to distinguish them from worms. Of all the organisms in the river water, these are the most stable and persistent. They are there from the first day to the last. Most of our Spirostoma are small (relatively speaking), about two Paramecia in length, but the other day a light brown monster Spirostomum showed up, only one of them, and it was three times the length and width of the other Spirostoma in the slide. The monster had a long spiraled, beaded macronucleus going down the length of it, and lots of visible internal structure.
    We have seen rather strange things among the Spirostoma. For example, they develop a swelling, usually at the end, that makes them look like swimming microphones. Sometimes the swelling is about 1/3 down the length of the cell.  They also look sometimes as if something had bitten a funny, squared off chunk out of them about 1/3 down their length, and sometimes one looks like a big one with a little one hanging off it about 1/3 down its length; the big one has a funny, squared-off end with its cilia sticking out. We have also seen some little ones conjugating. Sometimes they appear to be crumpled up, or tied in knots,  or chewed up. Possibly they are big enough to survive attacks by the Madog River predators such as Lacrymaria olor, Coleps, and the nematodes, and we are seeing wounded ones.
Image of the aqua stentor, showing extended and scrunched-up form.


    Our first sample of Madog River water never yielded any Stentors, to our dismay. But the second sample has given us three kinds, a colorless, glass-clear Stentor, a pale brown Stentor, and a breathtakingly beautiful aqua-colored Stentor. As I looked at the long, skinny aqua Stentor attached to a matrix, I accidentally jarred the microscope a few times, frightening the poor, nervous creature. At last it scrunched itself into a small turnip or garlic-shaped lump and swam away.

Halteria Image of the hyperactive Halteria.

    We find lots of Halteria. These are somewhat smaller ciliates than the others, rounded but oblate, with a couple of fringes of cilia running around their lines of latitude. They hop about frantically, and are hard to see without Proto-Slo.


    These funny-looking  ciliates resemble Frontonia or Paramecium except that they have a hook at their front end. They are flat and flexible. They seem to arrive a bit late in the ciliate max-out phase of the culture, after the Frontonia, Paramecia and Urocentrum turbo have peaked and are in decline. During their latest appearance, they were conjugating.


    These long, skinny guys look like Spirostomum except that they have a long, flexible nose that they follow around. The "nose" is quite a lively probe.

Lacrymaria olor

Image of the malevolent Lacrymaria olor.
    These incredibly malevolent looking little ciliates resemble Litonotes slightly in that they also have a long nose. However, the resemblance ends there.
    The first time I found Lacrymaria olor, the beast was hiding in a clump of debris, and all I could see of it was its questing nose or neck. At the end of this neck was a bulb or swelling. It whipped this tentacle around rapidly in all directions, elongating it and retracting it. At one point, it touched a Frontonia, and apparently grabbed it for a second. The Frontonia pulled away and dashed off. I have since learned that Lacrymaria tears chunks off other protozoans for its nourishment. That day, although I watched this organism for a long time, I never got a glimpse of its body, because it never came out of its hiding place. I had no idea that it was a protozoan. It just didn't move like a protozoan!
    But the next day, I found one out in the open. That tentacle or neck is unmistakable. This time, I got a good look at it and could tell it was a ciliate. After that, it was easy to track down its identity. Check out this website for a good article about Lacrymaria olor.


    Prorodon is a round, simple-looking ciliated ellipsoid, slightly pointed at one end. Ours are fairly dusky in color, a sooty gray. They tend to show up fairly late in the ciliate explosion.


    This funny-looking ciliate bloomed recently in our Madog River sample. These guys are barrel-shaped with a circle of cilia around their base and a spiraled ring of cilia around their oral end. When startled, they contract like a stentor or vorticella.

    Click here to view Ciliates not shown on this page.



    We find  Bacillaria. This amazing colonial diatom moves by stacking or folding  itself up, and then straightening out to push itself along. Bacillaria is very active. It is so funny looking that people laugh out loud when they see it.

    If you are interested in ordering a book to help you identify Protozoa, check out How to Know the Protozoa at amazon.com.

    If you are interested in seeing lots of very helpful pictures of Protozoa on the Internet, check out Protist Images.


    In addition to all of these protozoans, we found several multi-cellular animals inhabiting the water of Madog River:


    We found Dero. This is an oligochaete annelid worm with ciliated anal gills that look like a hand. The Dero was large enough not to be terribly happy confined between slide and the cover slip, so it didn't move around very much. We could see its little eyespots, and its pulsating insides. The second time I found Dero, the students were studying annelids, so I called them over to have a look. When I told them I had found Dero, a worm with a funny-looking butt, a student said, "A worm named Daryl?" The first student in line looked at Dero and said, "I don't see a hand. All I can see is eyes." "You've got the wrong end of Dero," I said. "Look at its rear end." She moved the slide, and exclaimed. "Oh, my God, it's excreting! It does look like a hand!" Then she burst out laughing. The students all admired Dero's physique.
Image of the beautiful Aeolosoma.
    Then we found another beautiful annelid called Aeolosoma. This one is smaller than Dero, and is profusely decorated with brilliant red spots that look like tiny rubies. Aeolosoma has no obvious eyes, and has a funny, distinctive spoon-shaped head. Originally classified as an Oligochaete, it is now put in a class of its own. Later, we found a larger, less flashy Aeolosoma with brown spots, and an even larger one with pale green spots.

Platyhelminthes Portrait of an orange flatworm.

    We found several kinds of Turbellaria, but only one Dugesia (planarian). Most of our Madog River turbellarians don't have the cute crossed eyes or the big cheeks, but they are still lively and appealing flatworms. One kind had divided, and the two new worms were still hooked together. In fact, these double worms are moderately common.  In addition to the double worm, which has little transparent sensory pits that resemble eyes, we found a flatworm with larger, bean-shaped eyespots with scowl lines above them, and knobbly skin on its body, and another one, similar in shape and knobs, but larger with no scowl, and orange in color. A fourth kind we have named Plain Old Worm (POW), because it has no eyespots, no knobs, no color, no anything. Its head and its rear look the same and it seems to be equally content to travel forward or backward. One can see its gut through its transparent gray skin, and that's about it.
    We had despaired of finding a good old planarian and had just about given up on them, when one showed up in a wet mount on lab exam day. This huge, coal-black planarian streaked across the slide and disappeared under some debris. When we found it again later, it was obviously unhappy. It had scrunched itself up into a black rectangle with eyes, and we hope it lived out its natural lifespan when we put it back in the culture bowl.
    In a later glimpse of the water, there were two handsome, tan flatworms cruising around together. I say "together" because they never moved far away from each other in the slide. I would have expected the two to be cruising randomly relative to each other, but they definitely stayed close like a couple of pals.
    Most of these worms can and do cruise around pretty fast, but one type, which I think is a rhabdocoel, was a slow-moving flatworm; it hardly moved it all. I saw only two of them altogether. You can see a picture of one on the flatworm page.

Click here to see more pictures of our beautiful flatworms.


    We found rotifers, of course, many different kinds. Rotifers are small, protozoan-sized,  multicellular animals possessing a crown of cilia, called a corona, and a set of jaws called a mastax. These are the two most distinguishing characteristics of rotifers. The beating cilia of the corona make the corona look like a wheel, which is where rotifers get their name, "wheel-bearer." In old fashioned books, you may see rotifers refered to as "wheel animalcules." The mastax is always churning and moving as the rotifer chews on stuff.


    Several of our rotifers belong to a group called the Lecanes. These have a rigid shell. Pictured is a Lecane with a keel on its back. Image of a keel-backed Lecane rotifer.


    Philodina is a common freshwater rotifer, and I have read that it is the most common animal on Earth. It is a soft-bodied, fairly large rotifer with an attractive double corona. It likes to attach itself to algal strands, and then stretch out to feed. It can crawl along the algal strand like an inchworm or a leech, and in fact it belongs to a group of rotifers called the Bdellids, which means "leechlike. " One intriguing fact about the Bdellids is that they are all females.
    Philodina is also capable of launching itself free of its substrate and swimming quite rapidly through the water.
    The last time we looked at our Madog River water, at a sample collected during the month of November, we saw large numbers of Philodina hatching from eggs. The eggs are large, and the animal emerges looking like a full-sized adult. The shell splits open and the rotifer wiggles out with great difficulty. She has a hard time getting the shell off her back, and she wriggles, bucks, and rubs herself against things trying to get free!

Collotheca Drawing of the peculiar Collotheca rotifer.

    You just wouldn't believe that this creature is a rotifer! The cilia of its corona are elongated and motionless, and it uses them to filter small prey out of the water.
    Collotheca's tentacles are barely visible under the microscope, they are so slender and fine. The tentacles look a great deal like a heliozoan's axopodia. The Collotheca holds its tentacles rigid and still, and as long as the creature is standing at attention, the only movement one can see is of its mastax. But Collotheca is contractile. If you startle it by bumping the microscope, it retracts like a Vorticella, pulling its tentacles inside. The tentacles re-emerge soft and limp until the creature is outstretched again. The one depicted here appeared to have four clumps of tentacles, but one that we saw the next day had five.

    Click here to see more pictures and descriptions of rotifers.


    We found Ostrocods. These are crustaceans wearing a dark gray bean-shaped shell. The shell opens like a clam shell, and the ostrocod's little legs stick out. The ostrocod has a single glowing red eye.


    One of the most exciting animals we found are the Gastrotrichs. The merry gastrotrich is a friendly-looking little transparent creature smaller than a Paramecium, with a big round head, and a short little bristly body with two tails. It waggles its head back and forth as it swims, and occasionally turns a somersault to change direction. Viewed from the top, it looks like it should be round like an old-fashioned clothes pin, but when it somersaults, you can see that it's actually flat. Some of our gastrotrichs were pregnant, giving them a hunchback appearance. The students declared that the gastrotrich looks like a cross between a turtle and a snail.


Sketch of the magnificent green hydra.     We were a good month into our second batch of Madog River water when we were shocked, amazed and tremendously delighted to find Hydra viridissima, the greenest of hydra! Our hydra was a male (for the moment), with breast-shaped spermaries and a large bud. (Hydra are serial hermophrodytes, which means they can change from one sex to another.) His long, skinny, nematocyst-studded tentacles writhed constantly, and he (and his bud) would contract and elongate again as they responded to activities of other critters. At one point, a large flatworm practically swam into his mouth. The hydra grabbed at the platyhelminth, but the nematocysts had no noticeable effect. For all the activity, we never saw the hydra actually eat anything.  The green hydra is an awesome and beautiful creature!
    Since spotting our first hydra, we have seen several more. One was asexual, but most of the rest were males. We have not yet found any females.


    I must confess, I don't care for nematodes. They have a malevolent look, and in fact a great many of them are parasites. Another prejudice I have is that they all look alike: long, skinny, hairless, unsegmented and frantic. Nematodes have a distinctive way of writhing, looking like they are trying desperately to get away, but are trapped and unable to get anywhere. And that is why the nematode pictured here first caught my attention. It was hardly moving. And staying still is something nematodes just don't do!
    This was also a particularly large nematode. I gave it a second look and found that its head was attached to a slightly Drawing of the ferocious nematode, terror of rotifers.wrinkled round thing. It looked like it was feeding on the round thing. Then the nematode pulled loose for a second, and I saw an evil-looking proboscis, or stylet, or hypodermus, withdraw into its  mouth and then reemerge. It pierced its victim with the stylet again, and as I watched, the prey slowly shriveled into a raisin. The victim might have been a Philodina or a Frontonia; by the time I saw it, it was too far gone to tell.
    Later I saw the nematode probing around among the algae with its ferocious-looking snout, looking for another victim. A few days later I watched while another nematode of this kind searched for prey. The nematode sniffed a big flatworm and rejected that. Then it ignored a giant Frontonia. From the way it nuzzled along the algal strands, I suspected that it was searching for rotifers. And sure enough, when it encountered an unfortunate Philodina, it struck. One blow, and the Philodina pulled in her corona and never moved again. The big nematode sucked her dry.
    Since then, I have seen these big nematodes bypass stentors, vorticella and other ciliates, but attack both Lecanes and Philodina. They are rotiferivores.

Naval Magazine Puddle Water

    Dr. Lynn Raulerson gave me a ziplock bag full of brown water. She said, "Someone brought this to me last week with a plant in it. It comes from Naval Magazine. You might want to look at that and see if there's anything in it." I held it up to the light and saw some large worms about an inch long gliding through the murk. "We won't even need to use microscopes to see these guys!" I exclaimed. I showed Lynn the critters, and she said, "Oh, wonderful! Those are leeches! That's what the students are studying right now!" She went on to say that these leeches are fish leaches or bird leeches, but they never bother people.

    I poured the Naval Magazine water into a glass bowl, but the leeches stuck to the bag and wouldn't come out. I finally had to turn the bag inside out and pull the leeches off with forceps. The leeches stretched until I was afraid that they would break, but then they would let go of the bag with an audible pop. Then they adhered to the forceps. I finally got one into a little staining dish with some water and handed it to a student. The student carried off the leech.

    But a few minutes later I heard a great deal of squealing and shrieking. "Oh, my God! It's crawling out!" The leech was returned to me in a hurry!

    Perhaps the finest animal we found in this water was the rotifer, Floscularia. This rotifer lives in a home of its own construction. It looks like a waffle cone composed of small, golden-brown hexagons. The waffle cone is a little less appetizing when one realizes that it is composed of the rotifer's own feces and mucus rolled into balls and pressed into place in the structure. The rotifer can pull down inside and hide, or it can stick out its four-lobed corona for food-gathering purposes. One student described the corona of Floscularia as looking like a buzz-saw.

    If you are interested in ordering a book that is a guide to identifying microscopic organisms, check out A Guide to Microlife at amazon.com.  This book is a good introduction to freshwater microorganisms, with beautiful photographs, but its coverage is somewhat limited. However, there's not much out there to compete with it!

    A great website with lots of articles about microscopy, including information about microscopes and what can be done with them, as well as what can be seen with them,  is Micscape Magazine.

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