Life is known to do some pretty remarkable things. Bacteria survive in sheets of ice, seeds can sprout after hundreds of year of dormancy, and butterflies migrate across continents. But we have never seen anything in real life that spreads as fast as the Fouling.
The fastest growing plant on land is the tortoiseshell bamboo, known as moso. It grows in China and has been documented that this plant can grow inches in an hour. One shoot was observed growing three feet in a day. In the ocean, Kelp is a a kind of algae that forms in tall columns that look like trees. It is known to grow nearly a foot a day. Of course, they’re adding length (or height) to their stems. They are not spreading out along the ground that quickly. [IF YOU have any information on the fastest spreading plants, post it here]
Fouling marine plants like sea grapes and other slimy things can accumulate quickly on the bottoms of ships and underwater equipment, but we don’t know how fast. We’re still looking for that information.
Among animals, blue whales grow the fastest, but they don’t colonize, and they don’t spread. Hard fouling organisms—animals like the Fouling—usually have very slow growth rates. It takes a long time to build an exoskeleton. Hard corals can take many year to grow just an inch. Again, if you know of some examples of bryozoan growth rate, please post them here. (The Fouling isn’t a bryozoa, but that’s the closest living animal to it.)
No matter where you look in the world, you’re not likely to find anything taking root and spreading as fast as the Fouling. By the time the expedition was nearly over, the Fouling was spreading at a phenomenal rate of nearly 300 miles a week (more than 42 miles in a day).
HOW DID IT DO IT? Granted, it wasn’t growing that fast, scientists believe it was scattering tiny zooplankton into the current which drifted long distances before settling on the bottom. Still, even with the swift Gulf Stream current helping to carry the zooplankton along the coast, it is very unlikely that anything could settle, grow and reproduce again as quickly as that.
We have an idea why it was able to spread long distances, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.
[A bit of a caveat here, we’re still skeptical about whether or not it could actually take hold that quickly.]
** thanks to the book Extreme Nature by Mark Carwardine for the facts on Bamboo. (cool book)