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Horsetail spores walk and jump like soot sprites

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Horsetails, also known as Equisetum, are an ancient fern ally with some fascinating features. When it’s time for them to reproduce, tiny spherical spores with four bendy “arms,” a bit like Studio Ghibli’s soot sprites, are released from the sporangia and sent out into the world.

Lightweight, the .05 mm spores can be carried by wind or water to new places, not dissimilar to seed dispersal methods. But they don’t solely depend on that to get around. Though they lack muscles, the spores aren’t stationary; like Erodium cicutarium, they respond to the humidity in their environment.

bendy springy spores
When these spores get wet, their legs curl up, folding like a spring getting compressed; as they dry, their legs stretch back out, uncurling like the spring releasing tension. It can look like they’re walking and jumping.

“Understanding the biomechanics of the walking and jumping of these spores could one day lead to the engineering of self-propelled objects,” biology professor and scientist Adolfo SΓ‘nchez-Blanco, aka dr.bioforever, writes in the video caption.

spores under the microscope

Equisetum plants (horsetails) are living fossils… During the Carboniferous period, these plants were huge (giant trees in some cases) and very abundant. Due to geological and environmental factors, the incredibly abundant dead organic matter generated by horsetails (and other plants) did not decompose.

“Over millions of years, pressure and heat made all this plant organic matter fossilize in the form of coal (this is why coal is a β€œfossil fuel”). So basically, every piece of coal that gets burned likely contains some fossilized horsetail dead organic matter.”

horsetail in the wild
Find Adolfo SΓ‘nchez-Blanco on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

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β€’Β Turn your smartphone into a digital microscope for ~$10

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