Monday, April 15, 2013

Dileptus, the Carnivorous Elephant of Albertan Ponds

I'm getting more comfortable using my microscope to identify the incredible diversity of organisms living in Alberta's ponds. Rather than keep this to myself, I thought I'd post every now and then on some critter I've identified. Of everything I have seen so far, the species featured below has given me the greatest heebie-jeebies.


video


This video of Dileptus was taken using water sampled from a farm pond near Elk Point, Alberta. You can clearly see the numerous tiny cilia lining its body. 

Dileptus are quite large (relatively speaking, 0.6 mm maximum) single-celled ciliated protists. They are pretty obvious from their unusual body shape, with an elongated elephant-like trunk at the front of their 'body' and a stiffer thorn-shaped 'tail'. These are nasty little carnivores, and I am going to have to try to get a video of one of them feeding this summer. They hit their prey with their proboscis, releasing powerful toxins that paralyze their prey. A 'mouth' then opens by the base of proboscis, and the proboscis can hold the prey as it is consumed. They can eat critters as large as themselves.

These critters are also somewhat unusual in that there are three sexes (no guy/girl distinctions here!) and they can switch between sex types throughout their lives.

Now that you've learned that little fact, you will never unlearn it. You're welcome.

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