By Sue Tiffin
Published Sept. 28 2017
On this particular afternoon at the shared dock of neighbours Robin Carmount and Neil Vanderstoop in Algonquin Highlands a heron is lifting off from the waters and evidence of an otter is scattered about the shoreline.
But it’s something less familiar that is drawing attention to their spot on the Beech River between Boshkung and Beech Lakes.
A dozen or so freshwater bryozoans – or Pectinatella magnifica – tiny organisms that form jelly-like colonies are visible along the bottom of the river from the water’s surface. The blob-like creatures of various sizes – some as large as a football –have attached themselves to sticks and logs next to the dock.
“I came down one day and they started multiplying until we had more and more and more” said Vanderstoop who said he’s seen them elsewhere like in Eels Lake near Bancroft. “I’ve just never seen this many in one spot.”
Vanderstoop reaches into the water to pull a small bryozoan colony out.
“They’re all over. They’re under the dock they’re under the trees over there. [From the surface] it looks like a pine cone but clearer” said Vanderstoop. “It feels just like a ball of jelly. You can probably just squish it but I’m not about to. The ones in there now are getting so big I’m getting a little apprehensive about picking them up.”
After posting an image of a bryozoan to Facebook Vanderstoop’s daughter searched the Internet to identify them for him.
“I had thought they were some sort of frog egg or fish egg or turtle of some sort” he said and then laughing: “We didn’t pay much mind to them. They’re on that side I swim on this side who cares?”
At around the same time the neighbours were discovering the bryozoans a video posted online by Vancouver Courier editor-in-chief Martha Perkins who was formerly the editor of the Haliburton Echo caught Carmount’s attention. In the short clip Perkins dons hip waders to venture into Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park to pick up what she described as “a big blob of gooeyness.” Carmount recognized the creature in her hands immediately.
“I watched the video and thought this can’t be the same Martha Perkins what are the chances of that” said Carmount. “I saw it in the water then saw the video and thought ’that’s the same thing that’s growing in the river here.’”
The video caught the attention of more than Carmount – it went viral after being shared by international media outlets including National Geographic London’s Daily Mail and Popular Science and has been viewed more than 900000 times.
In the Popular Science article Sara Chodosh explains that global warming is potentially the cause of the bryozoans spreading and surviving from their original space in the Mississippi but “it’s also possible that they’ve just been lying in ponds … for years now without anyone noticing.”
Carmount said he’s seen the species referred to as “dragon boogers.”
“That’s the layman’s term” he laughs.
Adam Challice management biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry saw the photo of the Beech Lake bryozoan and confirmed that’s what it was.
“They are native and not harmful ecologically although I do not suggest you try eating one” he said.