Moss formations in the Arctic exhibit herd behavior

Hyperaxion May 30, 2020

The presence of strange moss balls in glacier ecosystems has attracted the attention of the scientific community. These strange formations proliferated in the Arctic, Iceland and South America.

Experts from various scientific fields have been trying for years to understand the origin of these “glacier mice”, as they are commonly known, as well as the way they proliferated at low temperatures and in such an extreme environment.

Moss formations in the Arctic exhibit herd behavior
(Credit: Carsten ten Brink – Flickr).

Now, a team of American scientists has revealed new information about these formations that have turned out to be small ecosystems for microbial life and important components of biological activity on glaciers.

To better understand these strange “creatures”, scientists analyzed 30 samples found at the Root Glacier in Alaska. The team found that these moss formations can last for years and are able to move in a coordinated manner, as if they were a herd. The study was recently published in the specialized scientific journal Polar Biology.

“The whole colony of moss balls, this whole grouping, moves at about the same speeds and in the same directions,” said Timothy Bartholomaus, one of the study’s authors, according to NPR.

Bartholomaus and his team marked 30 of these formations on the glacier and monitored their movement for 54 days in 2009. Over the next three years, the same scientists returned to the site and found that this moss was moving “relatively fast” – about an inch per day.

(Credit: Nottingham Trent University).

The team also found that many of these moss balls could last, on average, more than six years. These strange balls are called by some scientists “glacier mice”, and are composed of different species of moss.

“They really do look like little mammals, little mice or chipmunks or rats or something running around on the glacier, although they run in obviously very slow motion,” added biologist Sophie Gilbert, co-author of the article.

So far, it is known that these colonies can grow from impurities on icy surfaces and provide a habitat for invertebrates. They are considered a relatively rare biological phenomenon, which exists not only in Alaska, but also in Iceland, Norway and South America.


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