“Scientists were baffled…”
“…visitors from outer space or earthlings?”
“Many are thinking: extraterrestrial.”
Every horrid, ad-cluttered website and bimbo anchor−led morning news show broadcasted and rebroadcasted the same tired lines after many small, green balls floated on to the shores of a Sydney beach last weekend.
This is despite the fact that said baffled scientists and viewers alike had seemingly put an end to the matter, explaining that the balls were most likely a rare type of living green algae.
The attractive, lush green balls hardly need the Martian-origin hype. They are nearly perfectly circular, the strange and beautiful result of a process called aegagropilious. It is thought that the free-living algae form with the rolling motion of the waves.
I had my own first encounter with Aegagropila linnaei—or a marimo ball (毬藻), as they are called in Japan—at the office. Two small, soft orbs submerged in water inside an adorable glass container. My boss told me she hadn’t watered them in over two years since receiving them as a gift from a student.
After doing some basic research on the Japanese moss ball (although this name is misleading, as marimo is unrelated to moss), I got permission to cut one in half to allow the dormant chloroplasts to form two new balls. In situ, marimo ingeniously receive light on all sides as a result of aegagropilious. Ex situ, and to summarize, the balls failed to reform out of neglect, which I blame solely on uncooperative coworkers.
Although marimo can be seen on the shelf in malls and larger supermarkets here in Koriyama, the algae ball has been a protected species for nearly a century, and there have been reports of their disappearance from an Icelandic lake, perhaps due to pollution. Unfortunate news for such a natural wonder.