A Closer Look

"Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain."   -- Henry David Thoreau

This is the Journal version.  If you want to see images only, please click here:


At age seventy-five and a half, I knew I needed to find a new learning edge.

Poser compositions and Java programming (both personal obsessions for years) were getting stale.

I considerd astronomy, then remembered how cold the winter nights can get and that merely tilting my head

backwards triggers sudden vertigo that topples me if I don't immediately grab something stable

and look at the ground.

2018's April nighttime temps regularly fell to the mid-20's,

so I thought some challenging night-or-day indoor hobby would be best.

Then I bought a microscope, and here it is:

[right-click on any thumbnail image; then "open in new tab"]

A biologist friend had recently introduced me to "phase contrast,"

and I'd done enough on-line research to know the hardware "essentials"

and this mid-range priced scope had them all.  Since I intended to make still photos and videos of my work,

 I also bought this 14 MP microscope camera:

It took days for me to learn enough of the microscope/camera's technology to get 'closer looks' good enough

to begin a permanent collection of images.  My first project involved a misadventured wasp that I found crawling

pathetically on my living room floor.  When the insect finally died at the bottom of the open glass I'd collected it in,

I began observing one of its feet at four magnification levels:

[right-click on any thumbnail image and "Open in new tab" to enlarge it]


The last of those images is actually a composite of 99 "stacked" photos - each taken at a precise distance

from the most distant point in the focal depth, stepping forward until the closest in-focus image has been found.

The software that makes this otherwise impossible view possible is Helicon Focus.

I highly recommend it to all photographers or microbe hunters who wish to share their work.

It took me a couple of days to get the phase contrast condenser occuli adjusted;

then I realized that phase contrast is primarily for viewing the internal details of transparent specimens

(and my wasp's foot was not transparent - so I switched all of the phase contrast objectives

and condenser back to the regular ones.)

Here's the Helicon Focus image:

As of April 9th, I am two weeks into my microsopic adventures.

Every new specimen offers surprises.

( What non-entomologist would have guessed that the feet of insects bear claws

or that wasps' wings have barbs? )

Then a hapless stinkbug landed near me.

 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_marmorated_stink_bug )

After it took a quick dip in a capful of alcohol and had dried sufficiently,

 I looked at its foot and compared it with the wasp's:


I then discovered that the stinkbug has four wings - two outer, more opaque ones

and two inner, more transparent ones:


Among the many things I learned quickly was that higher magnification

(40x or higher) is sometimes less preferable than lower magnification.

High magification reduces the visible area of the specimen,

reduces the depth of field (how much is in focus), and may create focusing challenges

including deciding exactly what to focus on.

UPDATE:   APRIL 19, 2020

I've just received an email from "Jenn" - who gave me this link about non-chemical stinkbug control


Thank You, Jenn!

- - - - -

Helicon Focus eliminates much of the problem but also takes more time,

since each "stacked" layer must be "captured," saved, and processed.

There are many fine online galleries featuring Helicon Focus microphotography.

Here is one of them:  http://www.fotofind.eu/fauna/mikrofauna/

I've also discovered that exploring different options with both

microscope and software can yield dramatically different results.

Here are some of my explorations with stinkbug antennae and "knee" joints:


April 15, 2018 -- Rainy Sunday

This morning I'd almost decided to send the scope back for a refund.

The phase contrast wasn't working, and the videos I made were jerky and dark.

I began today's adventures by turning the scope around on the table,

giving me easier access to both the stage and the turret holding phase contrast annuli.

I quickly discovered that this small change made everything easier: mounting slides,

focusing, changing the stage's x, y, and z locations, and adjusting the brightness

of the halogen illuminator bulb.

I took another stab at installing the entire phase contrast system and finally

got all of the annuli centered precisely - so it became a phase contrast afternoon using available indoor subjects:

Epithelial cells from inside cheek: 

A drop of "clear" rainwater:

Mold spores from something OLD in the fridge (no more):

For comparison, a non-phase contrast shot of the same spores:

April 17, 2018 - Cold, blustery, waiting-for-the-surveyor-who-never-came day:

Quickie question for arachnologists:  How many "knee" joints does a spider have?

Spiders, being arachnids, have eight legs; each of which has four segments connected by three joints.

Therefore, spiders have 24 "knees."  I spent today looking at one of them:


April 19, 2018 - A Minor Success

  After trying unsuccessfully for almost four weeks, I was finally successful at making videos that would play for more than 21 seconds.   However, this required my calling AmScope's technician, who wanted me to find the camera's purchase I.D. number (which I couldn't find right away) so I could return the camera (which I didn't want to do because the problem was NOT in the camera - It was in the software.)  He then gave me a URL for downloading upgrades of the camera's software - which I did.  After uninstalling the original program and installing the upgrade, I was finally able to make videos longer than 21 seconds.  I still had a problem finding creatures in rainwater samples - but I finally found ONE today.  Unfortunately, I did not have the phase contrast installed at the time, so I made the video using the regular 40x objective and condenser.  The little guy was frisky and better at hiding than I was at finding him.  I'm not happy with it, but here it is:  
  When it warms up, I'm sure more creatures will appear and it will take less time to find them.

Waiting for the rain barrel to SPRING to life, I looked at salt:


Early spring dandelion


April 27 - I traveled to Beavercreek, Ohio, to have lunch and borrow my biologist friend's Leitz LaborLux 12 microscope.
I was delighted to discover that my 14 Megapixel camera and his Leitz Wexlar objectives were perfectly
interchangeable on both microscopes.  Here are some images I made using his objectives on my microscope:

Bluejay feather:


Cherry blossom stamen:


April 29 - Cool Sunday.  In my entire yard only three flowers are in bloom today:
the cherry blossoms, a tiny blue flower, and a tiny white flower.  So, I'm using available resources again:

Little white flower (garlic-mustard)


Little blue flower


Beetle foot:


Ant foot:


Dandelion seed and seed's "parachute":


May 6 - Beautiful spring Sunday:  After relocating a bird feeder and transplanting a lot of coleus plants,
I wanted to play with the scope.  I remembered a fan-powered insect catcher that I've used for years to clear
the inside of the house of flying insects.  I dug it out of winter storage, hoping I'd not emptied its
debris-cluttered tray at the end of last summer.  I had not!

I have marked both of the insects I examined with red squares - a tiny fly and a beetle.

Miscellaneous Insects from Fly Catcher






May  12 - Mysterious Creature
I pinched a bit of moist soil from an outdoor flowerpot and put it in a bowl filled with rainwater.
My very first sample from this mix yielded this "creature":


For a while, I thought this "creature" had seven "arms," but I was unable to identify it through online searches.
I then took another sample from the saucer and found this similar organism with nine "arms":


Still, no cilia or chloroplasts - no discernable cell structure like the first one,
and flat rather than tubular "arms."  I will continue searching.
Update:  I posted pictures and requested identification at  http://www.microbehunter.com/microscopy-forum/index.php
It is Stellate Trichome, an out-growth of epidermal cells of many plant species.
Stellate Trichome has been identified in 90 million-year-old amber.

Sunday May 13 - First Rotifer sightings:

A four-minute video of a nest of Rotifers:  http://hermitdog.com/microscope/Nest.mp4

A four minute video of a very frisky Rotifer:  http://hermitdog.com/microscope/Rotifer_1.mp4







Memorial Day Weekend - Swamp in a Bowl

I noticed that the potted coleus plants on my entrance steps were putting out flowers, so . . .

          (I couldn't find stamens or pollen.)

A few days ago, I collected tree lichen, bark, and moss and put them into a bowl with rainwater - hoping to find tardigrades (aka, "water bears" - earth's hardiest living animal.)  I didn't find any (yet), but I did find a lot of Stellate trichomes:

                ...and a vorticella: 

I also found an underwater plant with leaves only one cell thick:            Surely, those would be invisible to the naked eye.

Every pipette water sample from the swamp-in-a-bowl teems with life, such as this [dying?] rotifer: 

 ( 3 minutes)    http://hermitdog.com/microscope/Rotifer.mp4

and this more frisky one:  http://hermitdog.com/microscope/Rotifer_May27_2018.mp4

Memorial Day - While hunting in vain for tardigrades, I came upon this critter and made a video of it:

  2-minute video:  http://hermitdog.com/microscope/Onychodromos grandis.mp4

June 1st - Friday - First Tick of 2018


Video of the Tick:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmXYbUzvrUs

While waiting for YouTube to upload and process that video, I made a list of nine software programs I use to make each still image, and here it is:

AmScope 3.7 - camera software for capturing the microscope's images

Helicon Focus - stacking and rendering various depth of field levels

SnagIt - to capture the image Helicon makes

Paintshop Pro - to erase spots and dirt on the image

Windows 10's image editor and enhancer

SnagIt, again - capture the Windows 10 image and add a label

Thumbs Plus - reduce size to 100 pixel width for web page thumbnails

Filezilla - upload all images and thumbnails to hermitdog.com

Microsoft's Expression Web - to make web pages like this one

Feeling like you could use a break from the micro-world?

Why not try this MACRO-world parody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlzVp6g5e8o&list=RDKcehlTQs1og&index=29

Five hours later, the tick was still alive, so I made a shorter, brighter, better-focused vid with background music:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX6oj8JtzHo&feature=youtu.be

June 3 - Sunday:  Three days ago I received a new 60x AmScope objective.  I'd been so preoccupied with the tick that I'd not gotten around to trying out this new objective until today,  After looking in vain, once again, for tardigrades,

I looked at my collection of old dependables, this time a fly foot: 

Queen Anne's Lace



Rather than pay AmScope $90 for their darkfield condenser ( https://www.amscope.com/dry-darkfield-condenser-for-compound-microscopes.html ),

I built a darkfield filter of my own with a nickel centered in a clear piece of plastic.  Here's a vorticella I found on my very first darkfield excursion:


Of course, I'm now spending a lot of time exploring the darkfield world (and still looking for tardigrades.)

Here are two creatures I found this afternoon.  I've identified these "unknown creatures" as Didinia (2 minutes):


The one on the right appears different and moves differently from any vorticella I've observed before - (not that I've seen a lot of them.)

In a separate water sample, I found another Didinium and made this video (2 minutes):


June 18, 2018 - Hottest day of the year, so far:

I moved all microscope equipment to the bedroom and turned up the A/C.  During the day I made several videos. Here are a few of them:

A swarm of bacteria in a puddle (60x - 1 minute)): https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=iwrxLLEg2o0

Didinium feeding (1 1/2 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq6fMgnUt2s

Bacteria at four magnification settings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_D6No54jJQ

A very popular bubble:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nryt5MYEgCU

Mosquito larva

Video (2 1/2 minutes): https://youtu.be/vDpIUEYIhNQ    

Mosquito larva parts 16x

Eye:      Neck:      Midsection:      Tails:

During my walk this morning, I picked a chicory flower to get a closer look at its pistil:


Wednesday, June 21, 2018:  This morning I brought back a white morning glory:


Sunday, July 1, 2018 - Another hot, humid day.  I stepped outside to pick a wild lily and some driveway moss:



Thursday, July 19, 2018 - I spend an afternoon with a gnat