Creatures loom at Keystone

So, there we were, just the two of us, on the whole lake at Keystone State Park in New Alexandria. There wasn’t another boat to be seen or even fishermen along the banks anywhere. The day couldn’t have been more beautiful, with the fall foliage starting to make its appearance, and the temperature perfect, at least for this averaged angler.

With my friend Steve at the controls, and I sitting up front, we had just motored down to the bridge fishing as we went. I was able to pick up some small blue gill, “the professor” as I called him, did a lot better, hauling in crappie, blue gill and one nice-sized bass going a little over 13 inches.

Upon our trip back, he alerted my attention to something in the water that he had seen many times before, only this one was much bigger than he had ever noticed before. When I first looked at this mysterious creature at first glance, I got the impression that there was a large eye appearing out of the water looking straight upward and all around the surface. Spooky!

“Look at this thing, Peev. What do you think it is?” he questioned me. I had never seen the likes of it in any body of water I had fished. I poked it with my rod butt and it expelled air in great amounts almost as though it gave the appearance that it came out a four inch hole.

“See if you can find out what this thing is,” he commented. And so I did.

I contacted Pam McQuistian, Environmental Education Specialist for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at Keystone State Park and she emailed me back in short order and told me we had come upon a creature known as “The Blob.” 

When she told me it was a Pectinatella magnifica from the Bryozoan family, I wrote back and asked her if she could please explain just what it was in English, for Latin wouldn’t help my readers understand just what kind of creature we have lurking in the waters of our nearby lake.

This organism is a member of the animal phylum Ectoprocta existing from a group with a fossil record extending back to the upper Cambrian (500,000,000 years ago!). The majority of bryozoans are marine (several thousand species), but one class, the Phylactolaemata, is found exclusively in fresh water. Known as a zooid, a colonial organism, each has whorls of delicate feeding tentacles swaying slowly in the water catching food.

But there’s more.

The Pectinatella magnifica is a true North American species, first reported from Massachusetts in 1866. Current records for the state are maintained by Doug Smith, Zoology Department at the University of Massachusetts.

Seems these creatures live on suspended material from the water, including both suspended algae and inorganic clay and silt. It is said that if colonies are abundant in a lake, they could be responsible for at least some of the water transparency.

When I asked McQuistian how they got into the lake, she responded, “I’m not entirely sure, I can only surmise that they must find their way into the lake via the feeder streams.”

Some years they will be seen a lot, other years they are not to be found on the surface. That may be the reason Steve has seen so many of them while out fishing from his boat.

Usually they attach to free clumps of algae on the bottom or other debris that has sunken to the bottom. A matter of fact, most freshwater bryozoan grow directly on submerged surfaces. Pectinatella makes its own substrate with that massive gelatinous core so enormous numbers of zooids can lodge on small twigs. The slimy surface with its distinctive odor is thought to repel potential predators, although very little is actually known about that aspect. It is my belief that the lake turned over recently, and thus the creatures are now surfaced and now are seen more than ever.

So in conclusion, if you happen to be out on the lake boating, or along the shoreline of Keystone State Park Lake, and see “The Blob” come floating into shore, leave it alone. It isn’t dangerous, it won’t sting and best of all, it is very beneficial to the water quality. Let it do its thing. In essence, it is working on your behalf.

Paul J. Volkmann (10/08/2008)
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