The interactive Microscope Exhibit has long been a favourite attraction in the Two Oceans Aquarium's Skretting Diversity Gallery. A dream of the volunteers who operate this exhibit has always been to upgrade the old digital microscope to a new one that would allow them to "freeze" images of interesting things they saw to show visitors - after all, even microscopic animals move very quickly.

Thanks to Dr Rob Smith, a long-time Aquarium volunteer (who has, in fact, been here since 1998 - volunteering alongside our CEO in the Aquarium's early days), this dream of an expensive, high-end microscope became a reality! 

red chested sea cucumbe eating

Capturing scenes like the one above, a red-chested sea cucumber stuffing its face with yummy plankton, is now a reality. The new Leica microscope offers improved magnification, allows streaming of high definition images to screens at the Microscope Exhibit and allows the capture of images and videos. This means that we get to share our findings online with you too!

Things with tentacles

In the small world, if an animal wants to pick something up or snag a meal, it usually needs to use tentacles. The Microscope Exhibit reveals some of these tiny tentacled wonders below.

These are the tiny arms of a feather star, a close cousin of sea stars that uses microscopic tentacles on its arms to catch suspended food particles and pass them to its central mouth.
These strawberry anemones look just like ordinary anemones, but are actually more closely related to corals. "Corallimorphs", in general, resemble large stony corals, but in some species, like our local strawberry anemones, the individual polyps that would have made up the coral are large enough to survive on their own.
This is a microscopic polyp - it could be a coral, a young anemone or even the juvenile stage of a jellyfish. All animals in the phylum Cnidaria begin life as a tiny polyp like this.
Behind the tentacles of this polyp lies a tiny hydroid, a little-known, yet common, marine animal closely related to anemones and jellyfish.
The mouth of a red-chested sea cucumber. Like the feather star you saw earlier, this sea cucumber uses tiny strands on the ends of its tentacles to catch tiny particles of floating food.

Things with spikes

sea urchin tentacles

Spikes, or spines, are nature's most resource efficient armour. No animal epitomises spikes better than the sea urchin - but the new microscope reveals that there is more to these "simple" animals than meets the naked eye.

A close up look between the spines of a Cape sea urchin. What looks like a simple animal is, in fact, very complex - can you spot its spines, tube feet, nippers and photosensitive cells?
Taking a closer look, you can see the urchin's "nippers". These small, pincer-like feet are used to grip objects. In the case of the Cape sea urchin, these objects are held up as sun shields and camouflage.
Zooming out a bit, we see the mouth of the urchin (note its five large teeth).

Creepy crawlies

Delving deeper into this tiny world, we begin to reveal species of animal that normally escape our notice. At the Microscope Exhibit, you'll see tiny animals that live amongst the holdfasts of the kelp forests on the Cape's coast.

On the small scale, plenty of tiny animals become revealed, like this tiny marine isopod. These underwater scavengers are close relatives of the woodlice we see on land.
This is a scarlet sea spider (Nymphon signatum). Sea spiders are not spiders!
This tiny worm is a polychaete, a huge family of life that contains wonders from bobbit worms to Christmas tree worms.
Artemia, also known as brine shrimp or sea monkeys, are the bottom of the food chain in many of the Aquarium's exhibits.
A tiny Cape keyhole limpet, the size of a grain of sand. As it grows, the green and black colours will be replaced by bands of red and brown.

Stunning patterns

Finally, the new microscope also reveals the hidden beauty in mundane objects. From old seashells to seaweed fronds, marvellous patterns and intricacies are waiting to be discovered. 

The cells of an upright codium, a type of seaweed that is quite unique - its interior cell membranes break down so that chloroplasts (the parts of the cell that turn sunlight into food) can move to the parts of the plant that is getting the most light.
Looks like sandpaper, right? This is the skin of a shark, and each of those tiny bumps is a "dermal denticle" - a tiny tooth.
Even something as simple as the inside of a limpet shell reveals hidden beauty when seen under the microscope.
A colony of tiny animals called bryozoans. Colonies of these "moss animals" form huge structures - known as scrolled false corals in the case of this species.

Which microscopic marvel are you most eager to see in this new light? Take a look at what else is waiting to be discovered on your next visit to our Skretting Diversity Gallery.

blog comments powered by Disqus