The ‘Magnificent Bryozoan’ is a Snot Monster Living in a Pond Near You

Right now in your nearest pond, lake, or other moderately sized body of fresh water, there could lurk something garishly green, bulbous, and slick, made from the assemblage of thousands of little organisms that wiggle and feed off their surroundings. And the name of that unmoving, yet ever-expanding organism who’s waiting for you and your beau to go swimming past?!  Pectinatella magnifica! Or the magnificent bryozoan. And the strange ball of slime is basically… a real life Blob in your backyard! 

While the magnificent bryozoan may look like a harmless snot ball that just hangs out and blobs around in fresh water bodies, do not be fooled. Because while it is completely harmless to humans, as well as pretty much anything else that you don’t need a microscope to see, the magnificent bryozoan still exhibits very strange behaviors that you may find disturbing and even… alien-like. Or at least fairly interesting.

When you look at a bulging, gelatinous Pectinatella magnifica, like the one in the picture below, what you’re really looking at is an immense colony of individual Pectinatella magnifica that have all decided to build a giant gelatin ball together so they can all live on it in little colonies and use their lophophores — rings of finger-like tentacles — to grab and eat things.

Pectinatella magnifica zoon. Image: Wikimedia / Triclops200

The whole big ball of gelatinous slime is referred to as a zoon (pronounced zoh-on), and individual Pectinatella magnifica are referred to as zoids. And here’s the kicker: when an individual Pectinatella magnifica, or zoid, hatches from its “statoblast,” or hard casing in which its born, it sprouts a number of identical individuals. Very much in the same way a Mr. John A. Zoidberg did when he was a a young crustacean.

But what makes this oozing glob of 90% water so alien-like is this: According to the Encyclopedia of Life, “young [zoid] colonies can propel themselves across the slippery surface of their gelatinous substrate by creating water currents with coordinated beating of the ciliated tentacles on their crown-shaped lophophore organ[s]…” Individual zoids work in unison to move atop a gelatinous ball that they decided to build together for some reason. Whatever the collective purpose of these balls covered in little moving colonies may be, Gaia has clearly worked strange magic here.

Creepily narrated video of Pectinatella magnifica distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

If you’re worried about running into Pectinatella magnifica in the wild, you needn’t fret, as they’re only native to North America, and again, totally harmless. (They have been found in Asia and Europe and their numbers have grown across the U.S.) But they can clog drains and water pipes much like the dreaded fatberg.

They could even be oozing into your room as you read this article right now — look out behind you! No, just kidding. These blobs are super gentle. This is how they feed after all:

What do you think of the Pectinatella magnifica? Have you ever held one of these gelatinous blobs in your hand and felt the wiggle of thousands of little lophophores across your skin? Give us all the creepy details in the comments below!

Images: Wikimedia / Jomegat 

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