Nature-loving Vancouverites should be forgiven for thinking they stumbled across a goopy brain in the city’s Lost Lagoon: The mysterious blob discovered during a local event this August in Stanley Park is something that’s never been seen in the British Columbia metropolis. But as one slimy blob sighting turned into multiple, a scientific marvel became clear: the freshwater pond was beset with Pectinatella magnifica, a species of bryozoa that are famous for being the largest of their kind.
While they might just look like globs of goo, bryozoa are actually colonies of hundreds of tiny organisms called zooids, which are hermaphroditic creatures about a fraction of a millimeter in size. Zooids stick together to form bryozoa, and as the colony grows, they create a protein that forms the gelatinous structure they attach to.
But they’re not always sexless. When buds of zooids break off from a bryozoa, they can form a new colony by reproducing sexually. Within bryozoa, the ovaries are typically located distally and the testes basally.
Clumped together, the zooids create a structure about the size of a partially deflated basketball. Each zooid has a mouth, digestive tract, muscles, and nerve centers. They work together to send out thin, hair-like tentacles out into the water and capture plankton and organic material to dine on.
“They’re a colony of tiny organisms that like to hang out together,” Kathleen Stormon of the Stanley Park Ecology Society told the Vancouver Courier. “They have a very ancient lineage that hasn’t changed for hundred of thousands of years.”
Scientists believe that several thousand species of bryozoans live in marine environments, and 19 species within the class Phylactolaemata live exclusively in freshwater lakes. The type of bryozoan found in Vancouver is native to North America and is believed to have originated in Mississippi. Since then, however, the animal has migrated its way to states like Texas, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington; and has been found sporadically in Europe, Asia, and Canada.
This particular spattering of bryozoan is the first found in Vancouver, and the second identified in British Columbia. Why this mysterious creature is becoming more common in areas outside of its traditional range is, for now, still a scientific mystery. But hey — at least Canada just got a little bit cooler.