31 December 2007

Rock Snot, I'm not kidding. Rock Snot.

Rock Snot Hitches Ride on Fishing Gear
I've never heard of this diatom before but its really slimy and has a really literal name. Rock Snot. Wow.

"You try to reel it back in, and you end up with a giant gooey cottony wad (on your hook)," he said. "There is nothing like that that I have experienced. It makes streams essentially unfishable."

I think its interesting that many hunters, fishers and farmers are no longer automatically opposed to the environmentalists. They see how human impact has changed the land that they live with. In this case the fishers, the environmentalists and the scientists are all worried about this (totally weird) invasive species.

As a native Minnesotan, I've been hearing for years about how you need to clean your boat and other toys in order to try to stop the spread of Zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil. This mostly involved spraying down the boat and trailer, and not spreading ballast water. At the same time, I wonder if there is some fisher in Virgina thinking back to his fishing trip in Colorado and going "Awe, shi...." To this hypothetical fishers credit, diatoms are really tiny and a small amount can do a lot of damage and would be rather hard to see.

"Something changed the diatoms in ways that made them more aggressive," said researcher Andrea Kirkwood of the University of Calgary. She says the change may have taken place when a European version of the rock snot diatom was accidentally brought to Canada. Kirkwood says it's also possible that the native version of this algae evolved in ways that created much more massive and more frequent blooms.

This is where science now can see things that no one could fifteen or twenty years ago. We could take samples from the most distant bloom in Virgina, the European version and maybe we could find an isolated Western sample that is different from the Virgina bloom.

The scientific name for rock snot is the much more dignified sounding Didymosphenia geminata. Its a diatom, a group of single celled organisms with a unique cell wall made of silica, the same chemical glass and sand are made of. For single celled organisms some of them are quite large, up to two millimeters, which means they can be seen under relatively cheap microscopes. They look quite pretty.

And this is the diatom.

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