I have always been fascinated by what I couldn’t observe with my senses. During my experience in science I’ve focused on things that are so small that I couldn’t even see them. I’ve investigated microscopic parts of the human brain, and tiny organisms like bacteria and roundworms called C. elegans.
Bacteria: (www.bacteriamicroscopes.com) C. Elegans: (https://qbi.uq.edu.au/research/area/celegans)
This recently had me wondering the opposite: What are some of the largest organisms on Earth?
I remember learning in school that the largest mammal is the Blue Whale. A blue whale’s TONGUE weighs more than an elephant and a blue whale can grow to be bigger than 3 SCHOOL BUSES. One blue whale can weigh more than EVERY adult and student COMBINED at East High School in Rochester, New York (1). That’s massive.
(Scale of Animals: https://www.quora.com/Why-cant-mammals-grow-as-large-as-the-largest-dinosaurs)
What if I told you the blue whale weighed 30 times LESS and is 500 times SMALLER in length than the largest organism on Earth?
Pando is a tree. Well, it’s actually a clonal colony. A clonal colony is made up of IDENTICAL trees all coming from the same central tree, connected by ONE root system. Imagine if the streets in your neighborhood were all like the roots of one tree. Some streets are longer than others, others are shorter. Some are wide and some are skinny. Same thing with the roots of Pando. The roots all connect to the trees of Pando much like how roads connect to buildings like houses, schools, and stores. Here’s a visual idea of another large clonal colony called the Honey mushroom.
(Honey mushroom: https://www.zmescience.com/other/science-abc/largest-organism-world-mushroom/)
Pando and other clonal colonies like the Honey mushroom are incredible to me because just like the really tiny parts of biology that I’ve studied (bacteria, roundworms, or microscopic parts of the brain), clonal colonies are also hard to observe but for different reasons. How do we even measure how big clonal colonies are? How do they transport water and nutrients across hundreds of acres? What happens when one tree in the colony dies and how do new trees grow?
It doesn’t matter if you study things that are large, small, or in between in science. We’re all curious about the parts that we can’t easily observe. The amazing process of science involves building or figuring out the right tools to use to study things 6 million times bigger than you and me or 1 million times smaller than the cell phone you’re holding.
I loved this video on the scale of the universe. It made me think about all of the wonderful parts of science that I usually don’t think about because they’re normally unobservable either because they’re too small or too big. And it also made me curious about how scientists developed tools to observe all of these microscopic or humongous parts of our world.
What is something you want to know about something really BIG or really SMALL in science?