The Mighty Bryozoan

While walking along the Chadakoin River I have observed some interesting inhabitants. From a spiny soft shell turtle basking on a rock, to a vacant bicycle fighting a current, it’s truly amazing what you can find in the swift water. But the most crazy and interesting creature I found in the Chadakoin so far is the bryozoan.


A Magnificent Bryozoan photographed by Twan Leenders in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style.

If you ever peered into the water and seen a large gelatin mass floating at the surface or clinging to a fallen tree, don’t be alarmed. It’s not some foreign species from another planet, but a large native colony of little animals called bryozoan. With over 5000 species in world, these little creatures love to live in a group, and in fact complete a perfect job by working together. Bryozoan or Bryozoans (Plural) act as a filter. Each individual bryozoan takes in an average of 8.8 ml of water per day while cleaning and eating the harmful microbes that swim by. For this reason bryozoans are greatly needed in an ecosystem. Almost all bryozoans are colonized and are made up of tiny singular bryozoans (otherwise known as a zooid). Less than a millimeter long, each zooid works to maintain the colony, each having a specific job. While some feed and digest microbes (known as autozooids) others reproduce and lay eggs, to continue to grow the colony (Hetrozooids). What’s also interesting is that each zooid in a colony are merged together via the zooid skin (or the zoooeicum). This makes it impossible for the zooid to move around on its own but once combined they act as one organism. Sort of like the human body in were all organs (that have different purposes) are linked together to the nervous system, in order to complete a common function. That function being to keep the body alive. So is the same job of the many zooids in a bryozoan.


The 2015 PWA crew had a memorable encounter with a bryozoan as well!

While observing the Chautauqua Lake via kayak and the Chadakoin while turtle trapping I have found many stratoblasts or (clusters) of bryozoan. In the lake I was able to observe many bryozoans from a fallen tree at the opening of the Chautauqua outlet.  This fallen tree was the bryozoan’s best friend as it hugged and encompassed almost the entire tree, and it was almost as if they both had a symbiotic relationship with each other. The tree fed and gave shelter to the bryozoan and the bryozoan protected the tree. Sort of like the relationship between a sea anemone and a clown fish. The next time the PWA crew visited the Chadakoin, (while trying to catch spiny softshell turtles) I also found several other stratoblasts of bryozoan at the Warner dam. Though smaller in size than the other stratoblasts found at the outlet, these bryozoans spread out over a wide surface area at the bottom of the stony concrete of the dam, and had more of a star shaped pattern in between its slimy gelatin gaps.

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Another example of a magnificent bryozoan. Photographed by the Adirondack Watershed Institute.

Surprisingly in both locations each bryozoan holds the same function of filtration. Cleaning the water in this way is greatly needed in an ecosystem. When filtered water is present life flourishes, and as the water becomes filthy life diminishes. Also it has been a known fact that both the Chautauqua Lake and the Chadakoin River have seen pollution in their days and still time to time experience a sudden onset of garbage. This problem has grown drastically as it has become a big eyesore and has even found its way into drinking water. But even though things might seem the darkest for the river system now, things aren’t as bad as they once were. Before factories were regulated, chemicals were dumped into the river. This resulted in a sudden decrease in life. It wasn’t until regulations were placed that life began to flourish again. Once bryozoans started making a home in the river we knew it was safe again to enter the water. Now the greatest pollution comes from the Warner dam. This is because a slew of garbage is trapped at the beginning of the dam, bringing with it a foamy scum that pours out of the bottom. Fortunately this is where the bryozoans love to hang out, and if there’s a filter at the beginning of the polluted source, the rest of the river won’t be as contaminated. All the harmful chemicals and microbes that are produced by the garbage will now be eaten and filtered out by our little friends, turning dirty water clean again.

A magnificent bryozoan that Mike found in the Chadakoin River.

It’s true what they say that big things come in small packages. This is true for the mighty bryozoan, for such a little organism can play such a big role in a large ecosystem. Though it may look funny and feel even weirder these little organisms are our friends, and the more of these friends we have around the safer our lives will be. For not only do bryozoans clean our water but may even produce a chemical compound to fight against cancerous cells. If scientists can find the secrets to this chemical the future will be definitely brighter, for a cure for cancer might be found. If you want to thank these little creatures or even survey them, go to your local lake, stream, or river. Look around fallen trees or submerged rocks and you will be sure to find a friendly stratoblast. I am sure you will be amazed at the structure and features that the bryozoan hold. Furthermore, enjoy the water the bryozoans worked hard to clean!

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