My recent conversion to the delights of YouTube has encouraged me to dig out another video clip from my iPhone and to upload it. This clip was filmed last August, after I had a call from the Highways Department at Durham County Council about a mystery alga that was growing prolifically on a kerbside in Pittington, a village a few kilometres away from me. A utility company had dug a pit to work on some pipes beside this road and, when they had finished, filled it in again. Somehow, perhaps as a result of the disturbance, a mucilage-producing alga started to grow and the result was a quaking mass of soil and jelly.
The video clip shows the scale of this growth quite clearly. I found a stick in the hedge with which to poke at the growth and, though it was almost a metre long, still could not feel the bottom. An unwary pedestrian would have got quite a shock had they had stumbled into this unawares.
Schizochlamys gelatinosa (probably) from a road verge in Pittington, County Durham, August 2012. Photograph by Chris Carter.
Under the microscope, the goo resolved itself into small green cells in a mucilaginous matrix. So far we have not been able to identify this with total confidence. The most likely candidate is Schizochlamys gelatinosa. West and Fritsch’s British Freshwater Algae (1927) describes this as forming “very extensive gelatinous masses, often several cms. in diam., in ditches, ponds etc.” which fits with this specimen. Compare the image above to that in the AlgaeVision collection. You can also go to AlgaeBase, a very useful website for anyone interested in algae, and find more information about this genus as well as some more images (including an anaglyph – a three dimensional image) of the population shown here.