07 December 2009

An animal lesser than any seen hitherto

I am continuing to loot the Royal Society. One of the more interesting gems of today's session was an extract of a letter published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1668. It was from an Italian scientist, Giornale de Letterati, who described a microscope of a "new fashion" that had been constructed by another Italian, Eustachio Divini.

Here is the description of a session with Divini's microscope:


What could this Atome of Animals have been? Unfortunately the letter doesn't indicate if the sand they were watching was dry or wet. Since the animal had many feet, it was most likely an arthropod of some sort. However, if the sample was from an aquatic habitat, the animal could have been a tardigrade, but I don't think tardigrades have white and scaly backs. The tiny animal was probably real, but we need to keep in mind that many details the early microscopists thought they saw may have been optical artifacts created by their imperfect instruments.

1 comment:

Christopher Taylor said...

Some other form of testate amoeboid, perhaps? The "many feet" could have actually been extended pseudopodia.