Lovely Marimo/Moss Ball

Have you ever seen a Marimo, the cute moss ball?

Marimo (also known as Cladophora ball, moss ball, moss ball pets, or lake ball) is a rare growth form of Aegagropila linnaei (a species of filamentous green algae) in which the algae grow into large green balls with a velvety appearance. Marimo are eukaryotic.

The species can be found in a number of lakes and rivers in Japan and Northern Europe. Colonies of marimo balls are known to form in Japan and Iceland, but their population has been declining.

Marimo were first described in the 1820s by Anton E. Sauter, found in Lake Zell, Austria. The genus Aegagropila was established by Friedrich T. Kützing (1843) with A. linnaei as the type species based on its formation of spherical aggregations, but all the Aegagropila species were transferred to subgenus Aegagropila of genus Cladophora later by the same author (Kützing 1849). Subsequently, A. linnaei was placed in the genus Cladophora in the Cladophorales and was renamed Cladophora aegagropila (L.) Rabenhorst and Cl. sauteri (Nees ex Kütz.) Kütz. Extensive DNA research in 2002 returned the name to Aegagropila linnaei. The presence of chitin in the cell walls makes it distinct from the genus Cladophora.

The plant was named marimo by the Japanese botanist Takiya Kawakami in 1898. Mari is a bouncy play ball. Mo is a generic term for plants that grow in water. The native names in Ainu are torasampe (lake goblin) and tokarip (lake roller). They are sometimes sold in aquariums under the name "Japanese moss balls" although they are unrelated to moss. In Iceland the lake balls are called kúluskítur by the local fishermen at Lake Mývatn (kúla = ball, skítur = muck) where the "muck" is any weeds that get entangled in their fishing nets. The generic name Aegagropila is Greek for "goat hair".

Marimo's preferred habitat is in lakes with a low or moderate biological activity, and with moderate or high levels of calcium.

The species is sensitive to the amount of nutrients in the water. An excess of nutrients (due to agriculture and fish farming), along with mud deposition from human activity are thought to be the main causes for its disappearance from many lakes.The species still exists in Lake Zeller in Austria (where it was first discovered in the 1820s) but the lake ball growth form has not been found there since around 1910. The same has happened in most locations in England and Scotland, where mainly the attached form can be found.Dense colonies of marimo were discovered in Lake Mývatn in Iceland in 1978, but they have shrunk considerably since then. By 2014 the marimo had almost completely disappeared from the lake due to an excess of nutrients.The species can still be found in several places in Japan, but populations have also declined there. At Lake Akan, a great effort is spent on the conservation of the lake balls.The marimo has been a protected species in Japan since the 1920s, and in Iceland since 2006. Lake Akan is protected as a national park and Lake Mývatn is protected as a nature reserve.

Marimo balls are a rare curiosity. In Japan, the Ainu people hold a three-day marimo festival every October at Lake Akan.
Because of their appealing appearance, the lake balls also serve as a medium for environmental education. Small balls sold as souvenirs are hand rolled from free-floating filaments.A widely marketed stuffed toy character known as Marimokkori takes the anthropomorphic form of the marimo algae as one part of its design.Marimo are sometimes sold for display in aquariums, those often originate from Ukrainian lakes like the Shatsk's lakes. Balls sold in Japanese aquarium shops are of European origin, collecting them from Lake Akan is prohibited.

Let us protect the cute Marimo!
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