Sitting in still water like cryogenic alien brains, these slimy mysterious blobs aren’t something you’d expect to find outside of a special effects department, let alone in a city park.
But even scientists who specialize in studying this bizarre life-form are surprised to learn they have found a home in the Stanley Park lagoon, in Vancouver, Canada, where a video of their discovery has prompted quite a stir.
The discovery of the mysterious blobs last month in the park is the latest sign that they are spreading westward across North America from their native home in the Mississippi.
In a video posted by the Vancouver Courier, the unique structure of these colonies of tiny organisms can be seen.
“It’s kind of like three-day-old Jello—a bit firm but gelatinous,” Kathleen Stormont, from the Stanley Park Ecology Society, told the Vancouver Courier.
The discovery of these “moss animals” at the park, which are a category of life-forms known as bryozoans, has been followed with interest, even stirring media interest outside of North America.
The interest on social media has brought to light new information on how the blobs are spreading, with users posting their own ‘brain’ pictures and sightings on the Stanley Park Ecological Society Facebook page. The posts suggest that the “blobs” are more common in the area than scientists previously thought.
Bryozoans might not look like animals, and are often mistaken for amphibian or fish eggs, but are technically classed in the animal category. In fact, one “dragon booger” as they are sometimes called, is a colony of thousands of tiny bryozoan animals. They often group together into distinct forms, from fan-like shapes to the brain-like structure of this particular species , Pectinatella magnifica.
Bryozoan clumps are tiny interverebrates known as zooids, which can reproduce asexually.
The appearance of the blobs in Vancouver’s Stanley Park is new, but the animal appears to have been heading quietly northwest for some time. A blog post on the Fishery and Waterways website notes that they had already been spotted in Vancouver Lake in 2011. The blog says this particular species can reach enormous sizes.
“Each gelatinous blob can reach seven feet in diameter and will turn a dark vibrant purple, with shiny white spots. … Each mass is built from hundreds of individual filter-feeding zooids, which extend tentacles from the edge of the blob to pull food out of the water,” wrote Joanne Breckenridge, Research Associate, Aquatic Ecology Lab at WSU (Vancouver), on the Fishery blog.
Zooids can only survive in water temperatures above 60 degrees, leading some to speculate that global warming is behind their appearance in western Canada.
Ian Walker a biology professor at the University of British Columbia who has studied bryozoans told National Geographic there isn’t enough evidence to suggest they’ve moved north.
“It’s something that could have been easily overlooked in the past,” he said. He noted that bryozoans have been found just west of Vancouver in the Okanagan Valley.
“I think we’re near the northern limit of them. With warming climate, they might migrate somewhere farther north,” said Walker. “I can only really speculate how they might have spread.”