Opinion Columns & Blogs

What the heck is a Bryozoa?

wmarshall@macon.com

Indian summer was still at least 60 days away, but at six in the afternoon when we “put in,” there was a hint of autumn in the air. The calendar said fall was here, but folks who have lived here for very long time understood that southern summers hold on, like a dying oak tree, and fall was still several weeks off. In some years, autumn makes only a cameo appearance, depriving me and many others, of a favorite, glorious time of the year.

By 6 p.m., it had already cooled, slightly, and the pond water, at least on the surface, was slick as the windshield on a brand new Lexus. With Foster’s battery and my electric motor, we pushed off as quietly as a Catholic priest at prayer. Foster had two casting rods, one armed with spinner bait, and the other with a plastic worm. I had two spinners with a black Torpedo and a plastic lizard. All in all, it was a good time to be alive and a good place to be — on a pretty private pond in Middle Georgia, and with good prospects for catching some largemouth bass.

Larry to Foster: “Let’s go to the end of the pond and then to the shady side, first, and fish the sunny side after it cools off.” Foster, the boat driver, to Larry: “OK.” And, so to the end of the pond, where the sustaining water comes in, we went fishing the bank as we headed west.

After about 20 minutes, with several strikes, a couple of bass and plenty of conversation, we were at the end of the pond, where neither of us had ever been before, and where we could clearly see the sandy bottom and swirling water where it entered the pond. In looking to our left and right and at the headwaters, it could have been a fishing spot in Costa Rica or South America.

The fishing was promising, but tough. There were logs and limbs in the water. It seemed the fish were around the incoming water. Foster hooked a big bass, but lost it when it ran under a log. I think I caught one. Maybe it was 3 pounds.

I was untangling my Torpedo, (you do that frequently when you fish a lure with a treble hook) looking down when I saw something in the water I’d never seen before. As I pointed: “Foster, what in the world is that?” My first thought: It’s some animal, a beaver, raccoon or armadillo, dead, in the water. But it was round with something that looked like arms or extensions, and about as big as a beach ball. I tried to pick it up with the paddle, but couldn’t get it out of the water.

Foster was perplexed and I was, too. It looked alive, but made little, if any, movement. It was grayish with spots like the little dimples on a golf ball. We were astounded, but moved on around the banks of this small, five acre pond, with our fishing, picking up more strikes and a few bass.

As it was getting dark, Larry to Foster: “Why don’t we go back to the upper end and try it one more time?” Foster, “OK.” So we did. And, much to our amazement, we saw another water monster, with the same appearance, but smaller, about the size of a basketball. Foster took a picture of it, pushed it with the paddle, and it disappeared.

Of course, we talked more about these water creatures than we did the fishing and the fish. And, I couldn’t wait to telephone my resident fishing expert, Les Ager, who calmly responded that this “monster” was bryozoa which I learned from the internet are a phylum of aquatic invertebrate animals (whatever that means).

Here are some other things I’ve read: “They are filter feeders that sieve food particles ... most live in tropical waters ... some in freshwater environments ... over 4,000 species are known ... some are hatcheries for fertilized eggs, and some have special zooids for defense of the colony ... they are also known as ‘moss animals’ ... they have been used in cancer research.”

Ten days ago, I didn’t even know what bryozoa were, and now I have seen two or seen something. If you’ve ever seen any bryozoans in Middle Georgia, email and tell me about it. Thanks and happy fishing.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.

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