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2000, September - October

September & October 2000 Mystery Image

September & October 2000 Mystery Image
Image by Jim Winschel

Well, what a few months of guessing. From undersea creatures to deadly viruses, the guesses came streaming in.

... and what was it?

If you guessed this was some type of pollen, you are correct.  To be exact, it is Salsify also known as vegetable oyster (Tragapogon mirus). Salsify is a relative of another well known plant the Dandelion. 

You might think that your summer-time watery eyes and itchy nose might be coming from this nasty looking thing.  Actually the pollen does not blow about like the pollen from wind pollinated plants such as grasses or ragweed. This type of plant is pollinated by insects, most notably bees and nectar seeking flies. Most likely the wicked looking spines are an evolutionary adaptation that helps the pollen to stick easier to the legs and bodies of insects visiting the flower, making  cross-pollination more successful. 

Even though the pollen is not wind blown the seeds of the Salsify, like the Dandelion, use the wind well. Their familiar parachute-like seeds have been poplar play things for many children.

Many thanks to Richard Brown for the image and the identification.


For those of you that are curious, here are some numbers from our list of guesses. We had several people get close to the correct answer and one person that got the exact answer. Congratulations Sarah, you are the only one that guessed a pollen grain.

  • 67% guessed that it was a cell or part of a cell
  • 18% guessed that it was a sea animal
  • 9% guessed that was a plant or part of a plant

Some of the creative single answers are listed below.

  • A virus
  • A deep-water sea sponge
  • One of those things that gets stuck to your socks when walking through a field.
  • Sea sponge
  • Strange sea creature that lives at the bottom of one of the ocean canyons that are miles below the surface where there is no light. Since there is no light from above there is no color in this picture. Light can't get to the bottom of the ocean.
ant, photo by Alex Wild

It's like having your own microscope! Visit our Zoom Gallery to explore and have fun zooming in and moving around each image.

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Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.

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ant, photo by Alex Wild

It's like having your own microscope! Visit our Zoom Gallery to explore and have fun zooming in and moving around each image.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.