Urban Phycology Documenting the single cellular life of New York City (and occasionally beyond). One pond at a time. Made with an iPhone and a microscope.
Birds of a feather flock together, and so it seems do vorticella cells. Here’s a small grouping of vorticella. But one has gotten itchy feet, it’s leaving the nest and heading off on an intrepid journey. Vorticella cells can break off from their sessile stalks to swim freely to a new location. It encourages species dispersal, and aids in the avoidance of unfavorable environments.
I started pondlife to document microscopic organisms that live in our common spaces. All of life is cellular or made of cells, and while we are used to observing multicellular life forms such as plants and animals, the majority of life is unicellular – meaning that each organism consists of only one cell. These unicellular organisms are intrinsically interesting and often visually stunning; they are architects, builders, travelers, parasites, hunters, scavengers and prey; they have sex lives and mating rituals; they build communities and they go it alone. I think microbes have been vastly underrepresented in our efforts to document natural history to non-scientific audiences. I wanted to document these organisms in a way that would make them accessible to many people, and show them as the complex living creatures that they are.
For me, observing unicellular organisms raises many thoughts on the evolution and nature of life, consciousness, survival, instincts, and complex behaviors. The fact that we, as extremely complex organisms, share many basic behaviors with something as simple as a unicellular microbe is a fantastically interesting thought. Lastly, I wanted to communicate a sense of adventure and exploration into spaces that are already familiar, such as cities and other built environments. I wanted to show that these microscopic creatures go about their lives all around us and right beside us, we just don’t get to see it. I find observing these organisms to be nothing short of wonderful. I wanted to share that sense of wonder and excitement with other people and attempt to communicate why these cells are so interesting to me.
Pondlife is run by Sally Warring. Sally is a graduate student in Biology studying the genetics and molecular biology of parasitic Protists. In (some) of her spare time she collects samples of water from various locations in and around New York City and documents the non-parasitic Protists found within. Sally has a B.Sc. with Honours in Botany from the University of Melbourne in Australia (although she’s from New Zealand). She’s currently working on getting her Ph.D. in Biology from New York University in the United States of America.
At present, all Sally’s footage is captured using her iPhone strategically positioned above the eyepiece of a compound microscope. Obviously this is not ideal, but she will make do with what is available until such time as a more permanent solution arises.