Natural Highlights: Bryozoans

Have you ever found a big, brown, gelatinous blob in a pond or a lake - or a slow-moving section of the Wolf River - and wondered what the heck it was?  Bryozoans, also called moss animals, are among the wierdest aquatic creatures both in the Midsouth and in the world, so ancient that their exact place among other living things is still a mystery to science.  Colonial, filter-feeding animals which superficially resemble corals, nearly all bryozoans live in marine environments, but there are a few freshwater species, none more noticeable than the Magnificent Bryozoan (Pectinatella magnifica), which forms a colony often 1-2 feet in diameter, occasionally much more, and is native to waters east of the Mississippi River.

A colony of individual zooids lives on the surface of a jointly secreted mass of gelatin and water, appearing as a collection of small brown roseates. Each zooid extends a feeding structure called a lophophore equipped with ciliated tentacles; the currents generated by the cilia move small particles toward the mouth. (Check out this video for an up close look at a bryozoan in action - starting at 00:42 seconds).

Bryozoans and other filter feeders have a role in maintaining and improving water quality through their ability to remove particles and decrease the turbidity of aquatic systems.  But in parts of the country where the Magnificent Bryozoan is an introduced, non-native species, scientists are concerned about their potential mpact.

Read more about the Magnificent Bryozoan at the following link:

Posted by Cathy Justis at 2:50 PM