The Trouble with Tunicates

An invasion of slimy, ocean-dwelling creatures sounds like something out of a horror movie, but it’s actually happening on the Oregon coast. An invasive marine animal called Didemnum vexillum showed up in Winchester Bay, Ore., two years ago, and it’s been here ever since.

 

Photo by Alexandra Lim

D. vexillum is a type of marine organism known as a colonial tunicate. The individual animals are tiny in size and are intricately connected with others of their kind. They produce a cellulose-like material that allows them to stick together, creating a matrix of thousands of animals that form a blob-like colony. The slimy matrix can grow over substrates, covering a surface like moss grows on a rock.This ability poses some serious threats to native organisms, were D. vexillum to spread. And that spread can easily take place through aquaculture or by boat.

Graduate student April Bird helps students examine their findings.

When Coos Bay teacher Steve Hood attended a WISE workshop and learned about the presence of invasive tunicates on the Oregon coast, he recognized the learning opportunity and decided to pursue it. With the help of the WISE program, Coos Watershed Association, and the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, Hood was able to set up a tunicate monitoring experiment for his students, giving them an opportunity to work hands-on with the marine life that was practically in their backyard.

You can learn more about tunicates and Hood’s invasive species project by going to our website here.

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