If you've been following the ongoing sewer monster story from North Carolina, I've got some seriously crazy news for you. First of all, the video of the throbbing poop-esque creature has been confirmed as real. But what is it?
We've been tipped off by an anonymous source about how the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, is responding as the viral video of a seething blob in the city sewers made its way across the internet yesterday. Marti Gibson is the Environmental/EMS Coordinator for Public Utilities in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, and she has been as confused as the rest of us. When she first looked at the video, she emailed our anonymous source to say it was a slime mold that was in the phase of its lifecycle where it looks like a throbbing, breathing animal (see io9's report on slime molds from a few weeks ago where we talked about this exact thing).
She assured our tipster that any water passing by this slime would pass through a treatment plant and be thoroughly cleansed.
But then, a few hours later, Gibson retracted her statement in an email:
The video was taken in a private sewer system by a private contractor working for them. It does not belong to the City of Raleigh nor will it reach the Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant. This is the response from our director: "The video is of the private sanitary sewer in the Cameron Village and was taken by a private contractor working for them and not taken by our staff. The blob has been identified by others as worms."
Worms? What kind of worms look like that?
Also I love how the privatization of the sewer system under this particular town has led to a terrible situation where the city's public utilities commission has no ability to guarantee that the situation will be dealt with in a reasonable way.
Can some environmental scientist or worm expert please step up and tell us what this really is?
According to the News & Observer:
Actually, the sewer monster is made up of thousands of tiny organisms called bryozoans, or moss animacules, said N.C. State University biologist Thomas Kwak. Invertebrates, they bunch together in colonies and feed with tiny tentacles.
But another scientist said no way to bryozoans. DeepSeaNews interviewed Dr. Timothy S. Wood, an expert on freshwater bryozoa and an officer with the International Bryozoology Association. He said:
No, these are not bryozoans! They are clumps of annelid worms, almost certainly tubificids (Naididae, probably genus Tubifex). Normally these occur in soil and sediment, especially at the bottom and edges of polluted streams. In the photo they have apparently entered a pipeline somehow, and in the absence of soil they are coiling around each other. The contractions you see are the result of a single worm contracting and then stimulating all the others to do the same almost simultaneously, so it looks like a single big muscle contracting.
An example of Tubifex is pictured above.