Archaea:  what is it?

In short, it’s a microbe that is one of the oldest life forms on earth, dating back some 3.5 billion years, a single-celled organism without a nucleus.

I discovered small, odd, orange, knobby formations on low-lying ground that had been compacted by earth-moving machinery on a particular area of Cullinan Ranch wetlands restoration site. Having discovered them, I wanted to know what they were, figuring they were commonly occurring, one of the many things that everyone but me knew.

A knowledgeable naturalist friend said they had him “buffaloed.” Another person replied to my e-mail (with photo attachment), “OMG. Call me.” He wanted to know if the forms were moving.

People sent a lot of guesses as to what the forms were but all the answers were qualified with a form of “but I really don’t know.”

I’d been searching on-line and couldn’t find anything resembling what I was seeing. I needed an expert.

A local microbiologist was eager to see what I’d found, the only person I’d ever convinced to go out to the wetlands with me early on a Sunday morning. He took samples, we looked through his field microscope, he ID’d Archaea.

The Archaea cells are tiny. The orange knobs were comprised of millions and millions of them, growing on top of each other. Plants served as a base, the Archaea formed a crust around them, growing in extreme environments, such as extreme salinity, only under specific conditions. The white spikes were salt, excreted to maintain optimum saline levels within the cells.

The Archaea formed at a time in earth’s history when extreme environments probably dominated the landscape.

According to current taxonomy, Archaea is one of three recognized domains which comprise all life on earth:  1) Eucarya (all organisms whose cells have a nucleus, which includes animals, plants, fungi, and a lot of other odds and ends); 2) bacteria; and 3) Archaea, separate and different from all other forms of life on earth.

I watched and photographed the Archaea on Cullinan Ranch over a three-year period until the area was bulldozed for grading in preparation for re-introducing tidal influence in September, 2016.

If any of the information on this page is incorrect, please let me know so I can correct it.  Thanks.

Historical perspective

This is a brief pictorial history of the area at Cullinan Ranch wetlands restoration site where Archaea appeared, flourished, and was bulldozed on September 25, 2016.

In comments “CR” stands for Cullinan Ranch, “GV” for Guadalcanal Village wetlands restoration site.

The Archaea area was bordered on the south by Highway 37. A levee paralleling the highway separated the highway from the Archaea area. On the north was (and still is) a pond with the same salinity level as the San Pablo Bay, a canal from which runs under the highway. The pond was dug out in 2012. East of the area where the Archaea appeared is a long-standing levee which separates it from GV. There was no border between the Archaea area and the rest of CR on the west.

CR is part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. GV is owned by CalTrans.

May 6, 2006 - Looking west to CR from levee separating GV and CR (021-12)" id="img_7632_2_1" rel="gallery_7632_2">May 6, 2006June 4, 2006 - Looking south across CR and Hwy 37 (022-01)" id="img_7632_2_2" rel="gallery_7632_2">June 4, 2006Sept 26, 2010 - Overview of CR (1482)" id="img_7632_2_3" rel="gallery_7632_2">Sept 26, 2010 May 1, 2011 - Canada geese at CR (0385)" id="img_7632_2_4" rel="gallery_7632_2">May 1, 2011March 18, 2012 - CR looking south toward Mt. Tam (2224)" id="img_7632_2_5" rel="gallery_7632_2">March 18, 2012Sept 8, 2014 - Looking toward Hwy 37 from levee, construction work building levee between CR and highway (3302)" id="img_7632_2_6" rel="gallery_7632_2">Sept 8, 2014Oct 20, 2014 - CR sign (0007)" id="img_7632_2_7" rel="gallery_7632_2">Oct 20, 2014Oct 20, 2014 - CR Archaea? (with pickleweed and grasses), photo taken from levee separating CR and GV (0034)" id="img_7632_2_8" rel="gallery_7632_2">Oct 20, 2014Oct 20, 2014 - CR canal detail (0008)" id="img_7632_2_9" rel="gallery_7632_2">Oct 20, 2014July 5, 2015 - Overview of site looking west. The white on the righthand side of the photo is not water. It is probably either salt or gypsum. (1798)" id="img_7632_2_10" rel="gallery_7632_2">July 5, 2015Nov 15, 2015 - General overview of Archaea area, CR (5139)" id="img_7632_2_11" rel="gallery_7632_2">Nov 15, 2015Dec 28, 2015 - Overview of Archaea area from levee separating CR from GV (5526)" id="img_7632_2_12" rel="gallery_7632_2">Dec 28, 2015June 12, 2016 - Archaea as scum in canal at CR (1444)" id="img_7632_2_13" rel="gallery_7632_2">June 12, 2016July 7, 2016 - Looking southwest across the Archaea site toward Highway 37 (1819)" id="img_7632_2_14" rel="gallery_7632_2">July 7, 2016August 2, 2016 - Archaea with white (salt? gypsum?) and water. (2184)" id="img_7632_2_15" rel="gallery_7632_2">August 2, 2016August 2, 2016 - Archaea site detail with pickleweed. (2156)" id="img_7632_2_16" rel="gallery_7632_2">August 2, 2016Sept 25, 2016 - Archaea prepared for bulldozing (2954)" id="img_7632_2_17" rel="gallery_7632_2">Sept 25, 2016Oct 2, 2016 - Canal containing Archaea at CR near levee separating GV and CR (0052)" id="img_7632_2_18" rel="gallery_7632_2">Oct 2, 2016Sept 25, 2016 - Archaea prepared for bulldozing (2982)" id="img_7632_2_19" rel="gallery_7632_2">Sept 25, 2016Oct 2, 2016 - Archaea bulldozed (3009)" id="img_7632_2_20" rel="gallery_7632_2">Oct 2, 2016Oct 2, 2016 - Area adjacent to Archaea-containing canal, former site of Archaea(0057)" id="img_7632_2_21" rel="gallery_7632_2">Oct 2, 2016


paged edited September 4, 2018