Jelly Ball Protists

Scientists have discovered strange, gelatinous creatures in the Tahoe Basin's Fallen Leaf Lake.

Tahoe Tessie, the rumored resident monster in Lake Tahoe, may no longer qualify as the most mysterious creature in the Tahoe Basin. Last month, Dr. John Kleppe from the University of Nevada at Reno and graduate student Grant Adams from the University of California at Berkeley discovered what looked like freshwater jellyfish clinging to the trunks of submerged trees in Fallen Leaf Lake. The pair had been studying the lake's underwater Jeffrey Pines, which once lined a shrunken shoreline, as part of their research on the history of droughts in California. To record data about the submerged trees, they used a remote controlled robotic video camera, which gave them their first view of the strange, gelatinous creatures.

Adams brought several of these golf-ball sized globs to the Academy's curator of invertebrate zoology, Dr. Gary Williams, for identification. A detailed microscopic examination of the clear jelly balls revealed that they were most likely clumps of single celled protists, created by cell division. Although Williams will need to see some live organisms before he can make a clear identification, he believes the jellies are composed of either cryptomonads or chloromonads, two types of protists that require an external source of vitamins. The Fallen Leaf Lake jelly balls appear to be obtaining their necessary nutrients from either the drowned Jeffrey Pines or bacteria that live along the submerged trees.

 
Beneath this scenic vista of Fallen Leaf Lake lies a biological mystery to be solved. Photo: Gary Williams, CAS.
These golfball sized jelly masses were surprising discoveries that require further research to determine their exact nature. Photo: Gary Williams, CAS
These microscopic single cells suggest either cryptomonads or chloromonads that require an external source of nutrients. These single cells make up the colony shown above. Photo: Gary Williams, CAS