We were looking for tardigrades, but without success on this occasion. We collected moss and liverwort from our urban backyard, along with some soil, and added water.
Moss, liverwort and soil samples
However, we did find a large number of other small creatures, most of which we were unable to identify. So we posted some of the images on NatureWatchNZ, and several scientists kindly identified them for us.
There is also an extensive collection of web pages on New Zealand soil fauna that has been compiled by Massey University here. Their site includes images, information and identification keys.
Our photos and videos were taken using a stereo microscope at 40 x magnification, connected to a camera phone, as shown below.
Setup with stereo microscope and camera phone attached
The most common creatures we found were nematodes, which are shown in the video below. They are almost transparent and so would be quite difficult to spot, except that they draw attention to themselves by frequently knocking into soil particles.
The Massey site notes that: “Nematodes are the most numerous multicellular animals on Earth. In New Zealand pasture soil, for example, every square meter of soil has on average several million nematodes in the top ten cantimeters. In the deserts there are fewer nematodes in the soil, but they are still present. The only place without nematodes is the ice of Antarctica and mountain glaciers, where there is nothing to feed on.”
Nematodes are also one of the things that tardigrades like to eat (as well as moss).
The other animal we found a lot of are these 6-legged creatures with antennae which turned out to be springtails.
This one is probably a true bug, since it seems to have a sap sucking stylet (out of focus):
This one is a millipede, with two pairs of legs per segment.
This is a mite.
There were also lots of very small blobs, whizzing around, that might possibly have been paramecium? It is really impossible to see at this scale.
It would be nice to have a greater magnification available, but even the 40x reveals a much more populated space than it normally appears.