Monday, July 14, 2008

Brush with a 500-Million-Year-Old Species

Pectinella Magnifica, originally uploaded by klmonty.

Over the weekend, my family and I spotted three of these gelatinous masses near the shore at Table Rock Lake.

After seeing the first disgusting blob and realizing that this was not a one of a kind, I ran to the house to get my camera so I could "take one with me" and figure out what it is.

I took several photos and looked around for something to provide scale - they were all about a foot in diameter and four inches thick. My husband quickly volunteered his arm and thus some perspective on their sizes. Huge gelatinous masses!

I showed some of my friends at the lake the photos and asked if they knew what they were. The answers ranged from, "never seen one before," "to some type of mushroom, like a "puff ball," to "accumulated tree sap." None of the answers quite suited me.

I subsequently did some research on my iPhone in the car on the way home and found out that these jellylike accumulations are actually colonies of a byrozoa, Pectinella magnifica. Pectinella magnifica, which is sometimes called "jelly-ball" is actually animal not plant. Much of the published information is scientific studies about bryozoans online, many in French. I found the most useful and easy to read information from Connecticut Windows On The Natural World. I vaguely remember learning about bryozoans in my many biology classes in high school and college. Seems they appeared on Earth roughly 500 million years ago. They are harmless, but quite creepy. There are some pictures online on a few websites, but I must say I took some of the best shots of a large colony I have seen. Have you ever seen one?

1 comment:

Wesley Fryer said...

Wow, that is really amazing, Karen. I had never heard of these. Reminds me of jelly fish-- but yukky ones!

If you started a new Flickr group with this focus, I wonder if you'd have many folks join? However many you did have join would certainly provide more evidence that long tail distributions are real! :-)

Babel Fish


Karen Montgomery is the author of Gomeric Hill. The opinions expressed herein are mine and not necessarily those of my employer.