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The Artful Amoeba

The Artful Amoeba

A Blog About the Weird Wonderfulness of Life on Earth

A Final Fern Tribute, the Witch's Hat Lichen, and an Unidentified Gelatinous Blob

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It's about time to get back to your regularly scheduled blogging. But before we leave the Southern Hemisphere entirely, let's have one last Best of the Rest Post. It's an assortment of stuff that didn't fit elsewhere in my austral detour, but is nonetheless cool.

I don't know if this is the legendary New Zealand silver fern, but it sure looks like it. Silver ferns are one of the the unofficial symbols of the country and the symbol of the New Zealand All Blacks, Rugby Team of Renown. I found this one lying on a trail in the Waipoua Forest that I visited to see the giant kauri pines. If it is the true silver fern, it fell off a tree-sized plant and is a small part of a much bigger frond. This is the underside.

Here is a closeup, showing the fern sori I discussed here:

Because I just can't get enough of gorgeous and unusual ferns, here are some more. Would you guess that this is a fern, to look at it? Looks like just another simple leaf on the forest floor.

But underneath, there was this:

While at the Waimangu Volcanic Valley (the area it sits in is New Zealand's answer to Yellowstone.) I had the bright idea to see if I could rig a crude "microscope camera" by taking a picture through my 10X loupe/hand lens. This was the result. I have dubbed it "Nerd Cam".

Here is a closeup through Nerd Cam, which works well enough that you can see the crests on a few of the individual sporangia, or spore houses, in this sorus (a collection of sporangia -- see this post for a discussion and picture of sori/sporangia).

Still don't see that sporangia and their Roman-helmet like crests? Look at where the arrow is pointing:

To review, this is what an individual leptosporangite fern sporangium looks like:

See them in the closeup now?

Here are some more unusual ferns and their beautifully patterned sori:

Now this was something I'd definitely never seen before: a conical orange lichen in the shape of a witch's hat. This was also spotted at Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Anybody know what it is?

Note the hollow interior, which I attempted to show here:

For the cycad lovers out there, here is a true tree cycad. Cycads are wonderful early-evolved plants that make seeds and cones but no true flowers. They're closely related to conifers and gingkoes. In most of North America, you're lucky to see the short, shrub-like cycads. Tree cycads are a novelty. As pointed out below, this is a taxonomy fail. This is actually yet another tree fern -- Cyathea sp. To look at it, you can clearly see those are fern leaves, and not cycad leaves.

Look carefully at that trunk. Look a little different? That's because the trunk is covered with the leaf scars of the cycad fronds that have fallen off. The beautiful patterns are where the vascular bundles of the plant -- the tubes in the tree that carry water and sugars -- used to connect.

You can read more about cycads in a post I wrote called "The Surprising Lives of Cycads".

Finally, we have this mystery blob, which was scattered along a beach I visited in Queensland, Australia. I have NO idea what it is. Can anyone help? At first, I thought they might be man-made rubber. But they tore quite easily when I touched them.

Here's another:

Finally, here's a video of some native Australian Spinifex Hopping Mice, Notomys alexis, from the Cleland Wildlife Park in South Australia, doing what small desert rodents apparently do best: burrowing, and zipping about like electrons. And really, who can get enough of cute small rodent video?

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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