Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ancient microscopic animals thrive in Idaho lakes

Diane Lawrence couldn't identify the gelatinous masses attached to the community dock in her Hayden Lake subdivision.

They were translucent with a jellyfish-like texture, and they kind of gave her the creeps.

"Sometimes, you see them free-floating in the lake," Lawrence said. "They look like alien life forms."

"Alien-looking" is a common description for bryozoans, freshwater colonies of microscopic animals that group together like coral. The colonies are thriving in local lakes this year, prompting calls from people who spend time on the water.

"I get a lot of calls from landowners like these folks in Hayden, wondering, `What is this thing?'?" said Thomas Woolf, a program manager for the Idaho Department of Agriculture.

Bryozoans are an unusual but benign presence in local lakes, he said. They're part of the varied life forms that teem below the water's surface.

"I think they're really cool, especially to show to kids," Woolf said. "They're neat, gooey, booger-like creatures that you don't expect to see in the water."

Because of their gelatinous nature, people often mistake the colonies for masses of frog or fish eggs, or even freshwater jellyfish, which also are found in some local lakes.

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