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VIMS scientists help solve mystery of 'alien pod'
Date:11/1/2010

Tracy Collier, an employee at Home Technologies in Newport News, Virginia, was walking her employer's Westie around the Center's manmade lake on Thursday when she saw a large, mysterious blob floating in the water.

Co-worker Charlie Schmuck says "The lake is behind our office. Tracy was walking by the lake, saw the object, and asked everyone else to come out and take a look."

Tracy thought it was "a huge dead snake."

Charlie thought it "looked like some weird underwater fungus, like the ones that explode when you poke them."

Perhaps because it was just a few days before Halloween, co-worker Dale Leonart's initial guess was that "it has to be an alien pod." After further consideration, he thought it might be some type of sponge.

Hoping to solve the mystery, Charlie took some pictures of the object and e-mailed them along with a description to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point.

The scientists at VIMS were equally intrigued. The e-mail read "The object is about 4 feet in diameter. It has moved about 6 feet down the shoreline in the last 24 hours. It 'jiggles' when the waves in the lake hit it when we prod it, it seems to be spongy feeling The texture appears to be that of a rock with algae spots on itit is brown and yellow, with a pattern of some type."

A brief flurry of internal e-mails followed. The marine tunicate Eudistoma hepaticum? Unlikely, as the lake contains fresh water. A Halloween prank in which someone moved a marine organism to the lake? Perhaps. The final consensus was that the organism is Pectinatella magnificathe "magnificient bryozoan."

"Moss Animals"

That identification is itself somewhat surprising, as the vast majority of bryozoansthousands of specieslive in salt water. Marine bryozoans are common but inconspicuous filter feeders that grow in thin, encrusting colonies atop rocks, kelp blades, shellfish, and other hard objects. When
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Contact: David Malmquist
davem@vims.edu
804-684-7011
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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