A creature resembling a giant gelatinous blob has been found lurking in a lagoon in downtown Vancouver by a group of amateur nature lovers over the weekend.
Although this species has been around on earth for millions of years, this is the first time they have been spotted in the city, giving weight to expert concerns that they are spreading and becoming more common in areas traditionally “outside its range”.
But why this is happening is yet unknown.
During the 24-hour ‘Bio Blitz’ on Stanley Park, Canada, volunteers with the Stanley Park Ecology Society stumbled across the Bryozoan, a rare freshwater organism that can get as big as two feet in diameter.
The ‘moss animal’ (known as Pectinatella magnifica in Latin) might look like one giant gelatinous brain-type mass but it is actually a colony of organisms bound together.
Event organiser Kathleen Stormont, described the animals as “like three-day-old Jello — a bit firm but gelatinous,” to the Vancouver Courier.
Working together to gather resources and deter predators, the individuals in the colony sweep the water with a ‘loop’ to snare tiny organisms for food.
They then secrete the watery fluid that hardens to form a firm gelatinous core upon which the colony spreads as the zoids reproduce (first asexually and then sexually as the colony ages).
“They have a very ancient lineage that hasn’t changed for hundreds of thousands of years,” said Stormont.
Living at a maximum depth of one metre below the surface it is surprising that people have not previously recorded them living in the park’s ‘Lost Lagoon’ - in fact this species has only been found in one other place in the country, Saturna Island.
Giving weight to the theory proposed by scientists in 2010 that the Bryozoan are spreading further than their normal habitat.
The spread of Bryozoan does not present a threat to humans although they can clog drains and pipes, and give off a fishy smell if they are washed up on land.
Overall, because the individual zoids remove particles from the water, the immediate result of their greater occurrence in non-native waters is to increase water quality.
A longer term effect, however, is that clearer waters may promote increase of algae which subsequently have access to more better conditions for photosynthesizing, according to the scientists.