Nature

Lucy the lake monster

Our local Scout camp has been rated by Boys’ Life Magazine as one of the 8 Coolest Camps in the Country! Hood Scout Reservation has everything from a world-class shooting sports program to a fantastic COPE/Climbing program to an expansive aquatics program – and everything in between!

Hood even has a handful of spooky cryptids, like the elusive black panther, the fearsome beaver-shark, and the ghost of poor Matilda Bailey, but the cryptid that I wanted to talk about today is neither fearsome nor elusive. It is Lucy the Lake Monster – A.K.A. the “snot monster!”

The Roaming Parkers just got back from running the waterfront canoeing program for two weeks at the autumn Cub Scout camp, and one of the most common questions we got from new canoeists – both cubs and adults – was, “What in the world is THAT thing!?”

THAT thing’s actual scientific name is Magnificent Bryzoan (Pectinatella magnifica) but my 5-year old Roaming Parker named it, “Lucy.”

Lucy might look mysterious and a little bit gross, but it is actually a pretty cool and common creature! Here are a handful of fun facts about Lucy the Magnificent Bryzoan.

It is not a plant – it is actually an animal, or a colony of tiny animals that look like plants. Each individual (called a zooid) is about 1/2 millimeter tall and has between 12 and 50 tentacles surrounding a mouth at the top. They use the tentacles to grab and eat microscopic floating plants and animals like plankton and diatoms and mites.

Bryzoa are actually one of the most common animals on Earth, occurring in freshwater and saltwater all over the planet. They are also one of the oldest forms of life on Earth and one of the first animals to be found in the fossil record.

Some bryzoa like to hang out on rocks or shells or plants eating whatever floats by, but other bryzoa will team up in a colony and secrete a blob of snot to float around on looking for better hunting grounds.

The blob-colony as a whole will move around the lake and some scientists say that the individual zooids can move around to different parts of the blob as if they are doing different jobs – just like in a human society. It’s not clear if the movement of the colony is deliberate or passive, but the Bryzoans seem to show up in areas where Scouts disturb the mud at the bottom of the lake.

Lucy is largely harmless to humans but you might still want to avoid handling it for a few reasons

  • They are living animals and there is no real need for us to molest or destroy them. They are part of the Web of Life so they eat some creatures that we don’t like and other creatures that we do like eat the bryzoa. Magnificient Bryzoans are generally a sign of good water quality because they clean the water they live in.
  • Although Lucy is not going to eat you, bryzoan snot can harbor dangerous bacteria. If you are going to handle or swim with Lucy, avoid rubbing your eyes and wash your hands before you eat.
  • Some people have been shown to be sensitive to some of the chemicals in bryzoan snot. This has never been seen in freshwater Magnificient Bryzoan (like Lucy), but some of their saltwater cousins can cause severe contact dermatitis in some people that handle them. Look up “Dogger Bank Itch” for more details on that.

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