Pectinatella magnifica
bryozoan in Alabama (photo by Graves Lovell)

One unusual animal that boaters and anglers may see in Alabama is the bryozoan.  This blob is actually a colony of animals. The colony is relatively firm, but the inside is gelatinous and slimy to the touch. It is almost entirely water. One of the common names for bryozoan is moss animals.

Bryozoans are members of the phylum Ectoprocta. Each animal in the colony has tentacles that they use to catch food. The colony's surface is divided into rosettes with 12-18 zooids (individual animals).  The colony may be small or larger than a basketball. Often several colonies are formed near each other. These colonies form in the spring and grow through fall. When the weather turns cold, asexual buds form.  These buds are called statoblasts. Statoblasts survive winter cold and desiccation.  They may be dispersed by animals, water and  wind.

The colony may also have algae growing in it. It is unclear if the relationship of bryozoan and algae is symbiotic or not.  The alga benefits from the bryozoan providing protection, but does the bryozoan benefit from the algae?