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Residents of the Summerfield subdivision noticed the off-white, gelatinous blobs growing in Bayou Black early last week.

Some as big as basketballs, the gooey sacs were visible just below the water�s surface, and they multiplied quickly.Relax, scientists say.

Though not pretty, the jelly-like blobs are actually colonies of tiny, non-threatening animals called bryozoans, said Nicholls State University biology professor Allyse Ferrara.�They look a lot like soft coral,� Ferrara said.

She added that she�s found the creatures before in parts of the Atchafalaya Basin and other Louisiana waterbodies.The bryozoans have been sighted locally in Bayou Black near the intersection of St.

Charles Street and Bayou Black Drive.

Bryozoans are similar to coral but with more-complex bodies.Each of the bulbous masses is a house the bryozoans built.

They attach these, called colonies, to whatever convenient space they can find just below the water�s surface, said Ferrara, who identified them from photographs submitted by readers.Sometimes clumps that break loose can be found free-floating or washed up near the shore.The colonies can range from fist-size to the width of a cantaloupe or even bigger.Each creature has its own small water-filtering arm to collect food.

There is also a digestive, nervous and reproductive system.

They feed on plankton and algae.

The animals secrete a compound called chitin to build a tiny compartment around itself.Bryozoans peak in the summer and late fall, but they can appear any time of year and in freshwater and saltwater environments around the world.Kerry St.

Pe�, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, said he�s seen them in Bayou Black before, and when the animals are smaller, they�re often mistaken for frogs� eggs.The good news, Ferrara said, is that the icky blobs are often an indicator of good water quality, though they�re sometimes found seasonally in less-than-pristine water bodies.Nikki Buskey can be reached at 857-2205 or [email protected]
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