On a cold afternoon in January, Sally Warring is slowly circling the rim of the Sylvan Water pond in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, gazing into its inky depths. Grabbing a mason jar out her bag, she plies open the lid and reaches for a nearby stick, then dunks her bare hands into the icy pond.
She catches a considerable clump of green matter and maneuvers it into the jar with the stick. “Oh! That’s good, you see that? Really excited about that. We’ll find some creepy things in here.” She doesn’t much care how this activity looks to passersby, a woman stooped over and fishing around in murky water; as always, she’s in it for the Instagram.
Warring, a 30-year-old biology Ph.D. student at New York University, is the creator of Pondlife, an impossibly charming and increasingly popular Instagram feed that puts the spotlight on New York’s smallest life forms. Mention New York wildlife, and most people think of roaches, rats, pigeons. But between the city’s rivers, canals, and even puddles, New Yorkers are never far from a mind-boggling protozoan zoo. With just an iPhone and a microscope, Warring explores the impossibly vast and incredibly tiny world of single-celled organisms, filling her feed with algae, cyanobacteria, diatoms, and other examples of what she calls “urban phycology.”
“Most of life’s diversity is found in these kinds of organisms,” Warring says. “I wanted to do it for a general audience, for people who had no biology background. For me it’s also a way just to communicate, to tell people what these organisms are.”