In my ongoing quest to peruse the Internet for largely useless but fascinating information, I recently came across a few tidbits about a mysterious terrestrial life form that’s absolutely stunning in its bizarreness.

They’re called “glacier mice,” and are basically balls of moss that grow on a scant few glaciers in a handful of places in the world. But that’s not the weird part; there are just so many outlandish levels to these things’ quirky uniqueness.

For example, glacier mice been observed only in Alaska, Iceland, Svalbard (a bunch of islands in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway) and South America. But even in that odd collection of locations, they don’t grow on just any glacier, but rather prefer conditions on only a few.

Scientists have no idea why.

It goes on.

Glacier mice (which can get about as big as a tennis ball and are typically found in large groupings) are known to sometimes be comprised of several species of moss. In other words, each one can actually be a colony of co-existing mosses.

But that’s nothing.

In one article, a scientist said, “the balls can persist for years and move around in a coordinated, herd-like fashion that researchers can not yet explain.”

The same researcher said, “The whole colony of moss balls moves at about the same speeds and in the same directions” and that “those speeds and directions can change over the course of weeks.”

So, I guess they’re like a “school” of moss balls, moving around in unison like a school of fish.

What the heck? How is that possible?

Scientists have no idea, admit that “wind, gravity and melting patterns aren’t enough to fully explain the mystery.”

And get this: Not only do glacier mice move, they actually rotate at least once every few days. That apparently enables them to grow moss around their entire outer surfaces, sometimes creating near perfect spheres.

Researchers say that if glacier mice stopped rotating, the moss that came into permanent contact with their host glacier’s surface would die. Wow, we’re talking about some smart moss balls here.

But there’s more.

Even though glacier mice live in one of the coldest environments on Earth, temperatures inside them are relatively warm. One researcher found that over a two-week period in July and August, the internal temperature of the glacier mice reached close to 58 degrees Fahrenheit, much higher than the ice surface which was close to 32 degrees.

What kind of plant has an internal heating system? This one, apparently, and scientists have no idea why.

And your average glacier mouse doesn’t just spend a few weeks on its glacier, but rather might live for close to seven years (obviously rotating and moving about with its buddies during that period). Considering how cold the winters are in Svalbard, that’s definitely persistence, as that one scientist said.

So there you have it. Just when you thought there couldn’t be any unexplainable life forms on planet Earth, behold glacier mice. It could be argued that they don’t even belong here.

And hey, maybe they’re not from here. Maybe they arrived on a meteor, or were planted here by aliens.

It occurs to me that someone should just ask them where they came from. Heck, they can do almost everything else, so maybe they have little mossy brains and can talk when they want to.

By the way, glacier mice were first documented and given their strange name in 1951. So scientists have had ample time to realize that they don’t understand them.

You gotta love it.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply