Identity of our mystery guest?


In a post last January I described an entertaining ciliate found in samples from Herons Head Park. I could not identify the species so I posted images and a movie of the critter and asked for nelp. The subsequent discussion touched on Dileptus, Lacrymaria, and Litononus as possibllities. All are members of the Class Gymnostomea and had similarities to the mystery ciliate but none really matched. I found the ciliates again in a subsequent Herons Head sample and then again in samples from our Alviso weep site.

One of the Heron's Head ciliates gliding along at 400x

One .of the Heron’s Head ciliates gliding along at 400x

While Wayne has often counseled caution regarding casual taxonomy I still wonder: Is this a Tracheloraphis sp. Karyorelictea, also a member of the Class Gymnostomea? Read on and I will make my case.

From the beginning I thought of these creatures as being similar to a ring neck snake. When moving they elongate dramatically and weave a snake-like path through debris. They are elegant in this motion. It is just plain fun to watch these creatures probe their way around the microscope samples.

Every now and then I would wander in a similar fashion around the WWW looking for clues regarding the ciliate’s identity. I finally came across the Droplet: Amateur Microscopy of the Protozoa WWW site which offers the image below of a Tracheloraphis sp. Karyorelictea slinking around a bit of debris.


Still image from the Droplet WWW site.

Their description “Tracheloraphis is a very long, marine ciliate. Body is very contractile. The body is wider at the anterior end (mouth). It lives in bottom sediments.” seemed a fit. The image looks like our ciliate in its elongated travel mode and it is bending around the debris in a similar fashion.

Better yet, the Droplet Tracheloraphis page had links to 23 tiny movies of Tracheloraphis at the British Natural History Museum. The creatures in the movies looked very familiar indeed. Compare my movie of the mystery cilitate (below) with the movie from the Natural History Museum (further below).

Premiere -  Herons Head

My movie showing the mystery ciliates. This movie is decidedly unpolished and there is no voice over.

Tracheloaphis NHM.gif

Movie from the Natural History Museum – this takes a minute or two to load.

What do you think?

By the way, I also came across a paper in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology where the authors “observed marine benthic interstitial ciliates Geleia sp. and Tracheloraphis sp. inhabiting the water column of a chemically stratified salt pond.”

Comments are closed.