In addition to the water plants on Shalimar, there are also organisms that break down organic debris. We have called these Fuzzes, as they are generally colorless and gelatinous, and look rather like dust balls. The cells of these decomposers have no chlorophyll, and the organisms are immobile. Although we have tentatively created some classifications on the basis of shape, we are not sure whether the fuzzes shapes are inherited or just similar by chance.

Fuzzes are usually found in quiet waters, often coating their organic food like slimes. They have no true roots, though they sometimes attach themselves to rocks with simple hold-fasts. They do not fare well in silt, where they are often buried. There appears to have been a form that we have called chalices, as the top was like a shallow cup, which has not survived, perhaps because the hollow was filled with silt as well as food, and the organism eventually clogged up. Clogging of their fine pores could be a problem for these small, loosely organized heaps of organic matter.

These organisms seem to operate successfully by releasing many unicellular capsules, which awaken from dormancy in appropriate environments. As they do not move in search of food, it is helpful to have the currents bring food to them.

We have tentatively categorized five types: the amorphous jelly-like colonies of loosely organized cells, the now extinct chalices, cones, peaks, and tanglers.

Cones are somewhat mound-shaped, taller than wide, with a gently rounded top and a holdfast at the base, broadened to provide root-like extensions that form a saucer to catch anything that slides off the top. These fuzzes appear to be designed to catch organic matter that sinks down from above. This form seems to cope better with silt than the chalice form did, but these organisms are small, and easily buried.

Peaks are roughly pyramidal in shape, with a broad base and a rounded top. Silt slides off this shape fairly well. It has the added advantage of providing a broad base which can be placed over the food type. This group would seem to be adapted to feeding on food on the floor of the ocean.

The primitive Fuzzes are formed of a very loose, irregularly shaped mass of cells: tanglers seem to be an organizational improvement over the primitive form. They have weak, gelatinous, poorly defined branches and they do hold fast to a base. They can be found where there are gentle currents that can bring food into their mesh of branches. Although some varieties are stronger than others, as a group they are soft and easily broken.

It seems fair to say that most fuzzes are released into the water as single spores, and are carried about until they find debris to settle on and digest. After their food source is exhausted, the colony may dissolve into its individuals which then float away one by one until a new food source is found.

© Elizabeth Anne Viau, 1996. This material may be used freely for instructional purposes but not sold for a price beyond the cost of reproduction. Please e-mail me at eviau@earthlink.net if you use this material. I'd be interested to know how it works for you!