Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Marine Botany


Cladophora Balls on the Brain

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A curious phenomenon is associated with a certain type of Cladophora that forms free-living spheres, filled with water, mud or gas released from photosynthesis. These ball forms, called Aegagropila, may be found in both freshwater lakes and nearshore marine environments, and vary from a diameter of a few millimeters to the size of a human head!

The spherical appearance of these algae develops by rolling over the bottom surface, driven by wave motion. Harder floor substrate leads to balls of more regular shape. The balls, once formed, can be kept in lab conditions for a number of years without losing their shape, suggesting some sort of inherent spherical morphology to the Aegagropila.

Eventually, the balls end up floating at the water's surface, or sitting at the bottom of shallow lakes, depending on whether gas, liquid or solid matter fills the algae. There are reports of other species of Cladophora demonstrating aegagropilous growth, among them phycologist Schiller's observation of C. columbiana!

Possible Uses for Cladophora Balls

  • Juggling
  • Fuzzy Paperweight
  • Organic Nerf Ball
  • Fashionable Toupee
  • Cladophora Pet (who needs chia?)

Cladophora Mania Hits Japan

In Japan, Aegagropila enjoy somewhat of a "cult" following. A certain lake in Hokkaido is known to form especially perfect Cladophora balls, which the local "Aidic" people involve in their summer festival. A folktale accompanies the dense green spheres, in which the hearts of a young couple who drown in the lake turn into Cladophora balls. Aegagropila's popularity in Japan has even spread to more urban areas. Tokyo has a bar named "Marimba," the Japanese word for the balls, which sells plastic souvenirs in the the shape of the popular alga. In recent years, aegagropilous Cladophora has even become a protected species in Japan, and a Cladophora ball postage stamp has been issued.

Cladophora Main Page    Life History     Ecology     Culture       References
This madness was put together in 1996 by Angie Nakano, who gives anyone permission to use anything on this page,
as long as you write me a thank-you note.