Nikki Buskey / The Houma Courier
CHAUVIN, La. — Chauvin resident Patsy Pierron and her husband Roger noticed something strange growing in the bayou behind their home Sunday afternoon.
Attached to the water lilies and sticks that lined the couple’s bulkhead on Bayou Little Caillou were dozens of brownish, gelatinous blobs. Pierron, 61, said she’d never seen anything like it.
“They were all over my bayouside, One was as big as a basketball,” she said.
Pierron said she and her husband, unable to identify the odd, gooey sacs that were multiplying in the bayou, entertained thoughts of alien cocoons and monster eggs. They worried that the blobs could be dangerous or poisonous.
“They are these hard balls with slime on them,” Pierron said. “My husband said it looked like that movie, ‘Cocoon.’ ”
One of her sons came over and urged her to get someone to identify the mysterious spheres. Pierron said she called the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office, and it directed her to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which was closed for the weekend.
“We were scared,” she laughed. “I said to my husband, ‘We got some UFOs visiting our house. Soon someone’s going to come knocking on our back door.’ ”
On Monday, ready to find out what was in her bayou, Pierron said she brought one of the creatures, which was attached to a long stick, to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Cocodrie to be identified. The trip brought answers and relief.
Though not pretty, the jelly-like blobs are actually colonies of tiny, non-threatening animals called bryozoans.
Andrew Barron, water quality expert with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, said the creatures show up in the area somewhat regularly. Bryozoans have previously been found in other local bayous, including Bayou Black.
“They are not any danger to humans, and they’re an important part of the ecosystem,” Barron said.
Bryozoans are similar to coral but have 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. The colonies can range from fist-size to the width of a cantaloupe or even bigger.
Sometimes clumps that break loose can be found free-floating or washed up near the shore.
Each creature has its own small water-filtering arm to collect food. There are also digestive, nervous and reproductive systems. They feed on plankton and algae. The animals secrete a compound called chitin to build a tiny compartment around themselves.
One good thing about the creatures is that they’re normally indicative of good water quality, Barron said. They only bloom in still, clear water.
Pierron said LUMCON officials congratulated her for her rare find in Bayou Little Caillou. She said she wants to get the word out about the animals in case they’re popping up in other parts of the bayou. Others have already reported them in other parts of Bayou Little Caillou, she said.
“It’s good to know, because I was scared,” she said. “I’m 61 years old, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”