The Immortal Hydra, The Price of Sex, and a Collage for LMAC #82

in Let's Make a Collage2 years ago (edited)

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As soon as I saw @shaka's evocative template photo for LMAC #82, I knew the theme of my collage would be something from Greek mythology. Although I don't compete in the contest anymore, I love to make collages.

The Template Photo by @shaka
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The sea crashing against indomitable rocks conjured epics, and timelessness. Eventually I arrived at the legend of Hercules slaying the Hydra. Here's the story, if you want to refresh your memory. The important part about the legend for my blog is that the many-headed Hydra was believed to be immortal. Every time Hercules cut off one of its heads two grew back. Eventually Hercules found a way to trick the beast and kill it.

Hercules Slaying the Hydra
hydra painting hercules Singer Sargent, John Hercules 1921.jpg
Image credit: John Singer Sargent. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston online database. Public domain.

I didn't think a familiar Greek legend was novel enough to write about so I looked for something more surprising. That I found when I learned about another immortal hydra, one that exists, in fact, today. This hydra not only can grow new heads. It can grow any spare part it needs, including a new version of itself. This multi-headed, self-replacing hydra has been described as biologically immortal.

Now, feast your eyes on the freshwater organism that may be more than 1000 years old. Behold a Methuselah of pond and stream life:

Hydra magnipapillata
Hydra_magnipapillata Friederike Anton-Erxleben, Kiel University, Germany 2.5.jpg
Friederike Anton-Erxleben, Kiel University, Germany. Used under CC 2.5 license

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The regenerative powers of Hydra magnipapillata were discovered more than 200 years ago. According to the website, Hydra magnipapillata is a small freshwater polyp. It has a simple structure and is a member of the phylum Cnidaria. Cnidarians were the first animals to develop nervous systems.

The hydra stings with tentacles and injects toxins into its prey.hydra accent 1.jpg

Here is a hydra catching a baby shrimp (Youtube)

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Key to hydra's longevity is its ability to regenerate. According to one article published by the UC Davis Biology Department, if you cut off the head of a hydra, it'll grow a new one. If you chop up the organism, you just get a bunch of new hydras. And, if you put the organism in a blender, you get "a soup of hydra cells".

The hydra can actually exist if it loses its nervous system. It simple repurposes other cells to carry out the function of nerve cells. hydra accent 2.jpg

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Hydra Viridissima
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Peter Schuchert. Used under CC 4.0

Hydra viridissima lives in temperate zones and is carnivorous (as are all hydra). It feeds on crustaceans, insects and annelids (information from Wikipedia). Hydra viridissima is called Green Hydra because of the algae that live symbiotically in its body.

Hydras are sessil and attach themselves to plants, or other stationary objects. However, a hydra can bend and stretch, and also if need be can detach itself and move to another place.

What Price Sex?

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Interestingly, there is one species of hydra that reproduces asexually under some circumstances and sexually under other circumstances. Hydra oligactis can be induced to reproduce sexually if the water is cold enough. In its asexual phase, its cells do not show senescence. In its sexual phase, its cells do show senescence and have a life span of about one year.

Hydra Oligactis
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Attribution: Lifetrance at en.wikipedia. Used under a CC 3.0.

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The so-called biological immortality of hydra is more than just a matter of curiosity. Researchers are hoping to better understand the aging process by understanding how and why hydra cells avoid senescence. The key may be in stem cells.

According to one article, it is the need to maintain and produce germ cells (stem cells) that robs the organism of its ability to support other somatic cells. In lay terms, the hydra oligactis organism is apparently exhausted by sex :))

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Other hydra species, for example the Hydra vulgaris pictured below, cannot be induced to reproduce sexually.

Hydra Vulgaris
Hydra vulgaris Corvana 3.0.jpg
Attribution: Corvana Used under CC 3.0 license

Hydra vulgaris (and all hydra, ordinarily) reproduces by budding. Here is an abbreviated description of budding by

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the new individual starts growing as a small body on one side of the parent...Ultimately, the new individual, which resembles the parent, detaches and becomes an independent organism.

This Youtube video shows a hydra reproducing asexually by budding:

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It is believed that hydra have been on earth for 600 million years. It is also believed that Hercules may have been a historical figure who lived in the 13th century, B.C. While it would be a stretch (really big stretch) to imagine that the freshwater organism had anything to do with the Hercules legend, still... often in legend and tradition it is possible to find at least a grain of truth. In this instance, at least, there is a kind of analogue.

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My Collage

I always knew there would be a monster. The first version began with a dog face.
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Teeth creozavr on pixabay
Dog snout bya-mblomma
Tongue free vector Pixabay
But that didn't work out.

I kept the tentacles, which were all made from one starfish, and just kept copying and rotating the image: starfish hockladen on Pixabay
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Eventually I found a statue of Hercules slaying the hydra (JDJ on Pixabay)

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I got rid of the base and found a boulder on Pixabay by jazella

Played around with the color, started to make frames for a GIF so the hydra tentacles would move, and then ran those frames through GIMP.

Hydra accent pictures hydra accent 1.jpgthat dot the blog are public domain illustrations by Rodrigo. H. Costilhos

The hydra beast is also public domain by SylviaP_design on Wikimdedia Commons.hydra accent beast.jpg

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Every week I thank @shaka for maintaining a community in which such good spirit prevails. We don't just create, we learn from each other. LMAC is a dynamic, welcoming community. My thanks also to everyone who participates.

Hats off to our teacher, @quantumg. LMAC members can learn collage-making techniques at our school. Rules for the community are on @shaka's blog. And, you can stop by and chat anytime in our Discord channel. Join us!

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Thank you for reading my blog

Hive on


I stared spellbound at your collage for quite a while. This touch of surrealism, driven by this great animation, appears almost a little psychedelic or hypnotic. Riveting, beautifull and interesting. I like that kind of art.
Really well done!

The edu part of your edu collage is also very very interesting. Greek mythology is one of my passions. So I was happy to read it for that reason alone. However, I was not disappointed when the topic changed to biology. On the contrary, the facts about the living Hydra riveted me at least as much as your pictorial work.
All my four thumbs up for that!

You are a talented writer and a great artist, but the quality that stands out for me is your generosity. You do have the heart of a teacher, a good teacher. And you are gracious.

My work pleases me on this ocassion, because it is approximately what I hoped to make. But it is a crude effort. You look beyond that.

Thank you very much. And I'm really glad you like the blog part. I do work hard on that. It's kind of the same approach you have...the picture and the blog go together. Complementary.

Thanks @quantumg for the great comment. Makes me happy.

A fantastic collage A.G. Love the animation and the Greek mythology connection. Amazing writeup about the regenerating. It would be a nice ability for humans especially for teeth and , of course, other parts that may be missing from damage or loss.

Thank you very much my friend, @redheadpei. This collage was not a struggle. It took a long time, but I knew what I wanted to do. Those little hydra were a surprise. I've discovered that if you know what questions to ask, you can find any peculiarity in nature. Amazing variety.

Teeth!! Wouldn't I love those to grow back. I hate going to the dentist :))

Enjoy the lovely weather spring and summer promise.
Thank you for your generosity, and you visit.

Most welcome dear A.G. 🌺 We are having lovely weather now and I planted a few tomato plants and some peppers. That’s the extend of my vegetable gardening except for the rhubarb and asparagus that come up every year.

I hope you are enjoying the spring weather.

Thanks as always for an informative and thought-provoking blog. Well done!

Thank you very much, @one-eye!

Hydra oligactis can be induced to reproduce sexually if the water is cold enough.

In this I definitely differ from this creepy little animal. 🤣

I would have given you 10 out of 10 points for your photo collage if it were available for selection.
So only the admiring words remain.
Super, great and fantastic. 😎

In this I definitely differ from this creepy little animal

You make me happy, my art friend @muelli. You know, when I make a collage you have a lot to do with how it turns out. Sometimes when I'm finished I say, that collage has no poof! Trying to have poof! (which I cannot always achieve) I learned from you.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Hello, excellent friend, your collage regarding the fight of Hercules with Hydra. It is a species that regenerates is something incredible. Luck in the contest

Hello my friend @cetb2008. I don't compete anymore. I just make collages and write blogs. This activity brings me much joy.

Thank you for coming by and offering such a kind comment. I was amused, and a bit turned off by this little creature. It seems harmless and yet is a successful hunter. Isn't life amazing?

Hope you have a peaceful Sunday with your family.

Also for you friend