Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Like a green and white reptile

with 32 comments

Green and white algae; click for greater detail.

The picture that you saw two days ago of bubbles and algae came from a creek in my northwestern part of Austin, but because the tree-blocked light reaching the water was dim on that late afternoon of December 28, I determined to go back the next day at a time when the sun would be higher. So that’s what I did, and although I was disappointed to find that most of the bubbles had disappeared overnight, my compensation was discovering a type of algae I’d never noticed before. It had alternating green and white bands, and the first phrase that came into my head, based on the patterning, was zebra algae, but a closer look made me change that to snake algae and then reptile algae. Take a look for yourselves and see what you think. If there are any algologists* out there who know what this actually is, please let us know. In the meantime we’ll consider ourselves free to use our imaginations and see it as whatever we’d like.


* Several dictionaries assured me that there really is such a word; I learned that a person who studies algae can also be called a phycologist.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 4, 2012 at 5:05 AM

32 Responses

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  1. I see eyes and a nose, are you sure it’s just algae! lol

    Bonnie Michelle

    January 4, 2012 at 6:33 AM

    • Eve saw eyes and a nose in the picture, and now you do too, but as the one who was there I can assure you that the “creature” didn’t bite me (though it did snap at my imagination).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2012 at 7:04 AM

  2. Very cool shot! What interesting banding in the algae. And I too see a nose and eyes in this picture. Cheers!!


    January 4, 2012 at 7:40 AM

  3. That’s some trippy algae!

    Nick the Editor

    January 4, 2012 at 7:46 AM

  4. Hmmmm not sure if I can honestly say I see an eye and a nose, but I do see the body of a fresh water octopus that has taken on the coloration of the creek. Very cool photo Steve!!! I would not have known it is algae unless you mentioned that.


    January 4, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    • Hey, a fresh-water octopus that has taken on the coloration of the creek is okay with me (is there such a thing?).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2012 at 9:49 AM

  5. My goodness you captured a rare sighting of Godzilla outside of Tokyo… 🙂


    January 4, 2012 at 9:37 AM

  6. The algae, upon reading this post, made an appointment with the algologist to help sort out its sudden feeling of identity crisis.

    Sorry. ~ Lynda


    January 4, 2012 at 9:57 AM

  7. You can always check with the Algae Lab on UT. They have a good one. Or ask Dr. Jerry Brand who will tell you what the green and white algae is.

    Happy New Year!


    January 4, 2012 at 10:28 AM

  8. Thanks for your suggestions, Nancy. The university folks are still probably on vacation, but I’ll try to find out.

    Happy New Year to you too.

    Steve Schwartzman

    January 4, 2012 at 10:51 AM

  9. It does look reptilian. Very cool. 🙂


    January 4, 2012 at 12:16 PM

  10. I’m seeing a beautiful piece of ikat yardage. What amazing, mazelike patterns–I’m sure I’ve never seen such a thing!


    January 4, 2012 at 12:26 PM

  11. oooo, that is so cool!


    January 4, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    • Oh, lots of o’s in your comment, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2012 at 5:54 PM

      • Hahahaha! Not very eloquent, was it? I’ve never seen anything like this, either but it really is beautiful, isn’t it? Thank you for keeping the hopes up for those of us in the snow belt! Although, there hasn’t been much snow here this year. Maybe I’d better get out there and take a closer look.


        January 4, 2012 at 9:55 PM

      • All the o’s were OK by me, as was the strangely beautiful green-and-white algae. I may make you green with envy the next time I show you a wildflower not from last month but from this month—yes, I’ve found a few—but if it can keep those of you in the snow belt hopeful, then it serves a good purpose. It’s so early in the year, I suspect you’ll still get some snow to play with, photograph, and paint.

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 4, 2012 at 10:10 PM

  12. This is so beautiful – like a green leopard’s coat.



    January 4, 2012 at 5:45 PM

  13. This is a fascinating picture. The spontaneous formation of patterns in nature is an endless source of amazement. Please do follow this up with a phycologist and post back – I want to know what is the physical / biological process that led to this effect.


    January 4, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    • I’m pleased you find these patterns (and many others) so fascinating. We’ll see what we can find out about the process that produced this effect.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2012 at 6:03 PM

  14. Cool shot!


    January 5, 2012 at 6:02 AM

    • To contrast with (or perhaps aided by?) the unusually warm weather we’ve been having in Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 5, 2012 at 8:06 AM

  15. Is the algae in the basic picture here shown at natural size, or with magnification?

    H.J. Hewitt

    January 8, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    • That’s a good question, but one I’m afraid I can’t answer because I don’t know to what extent the camera’s macro lens and then your monitor (or mine, for that matter) have magnified the image. If I come across this type of algae again I’ll try to measure a portion of it and then take a picture including the portion I’ve measured, or else include an object of known size (like a coin) in the picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2012 at 1:49 AM

  16. I love this shot! It makes me go quite light headed!!

    Dreams and Zeros

    January 8, 2012 at 6:04 AM

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