YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
Walking through the park the other day, I looked down and there was this thing on the side of the path.
I was instantly intrigued… and kind of grossed out.
So, of course, I took a picture! You can see it below.
After researching it, this thing that looked a bit like sweaty dog barf is actually a really Wowzerful little organism.
Behold the slime mould!
Even the name of these organisms is rather interesting… because they’re not a mould at all.
Scientists once thought they were fungi. But that turned out to be false too!
Turns out they’re actually amoebas or tiny single-celled organisms that are impossible to see with the naked eye.
They live in the soil, going about life breaking down dead plants, animal carcasses, bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and other organic matter littering the ground.
There are more than 900 species of slime moulds known today and they’re spread across the entire globe.
Unless you live in a very dry environment, there’s a good chance there’s a handful of species at your favourite park or campground that you’ve just never seen.
Slime molds can do something pretty Wowzerful.
If conditions become unfavourable—say the weather is too hot or dry, or there isn’t enough food nearby—they send out a chemical signal that triggers the amoebas to group up and form a bigger organism!
Slime moulds can take on a range of appearances, from bulbous growths to branching, delicate mazes.
The exact form—known as sporangia—will depend on the type of slime mould involved.
Plasmodial slime moulds form giant cells, where the contents of each amoeba merge into one giant unit filled with the contents of the other amoebas.
Cellular slime moulds work more like a swarm or like LEGOs. They remain separate but join together to form a wide range of complex shapes and designs.
Then there’s the Labyrinthulomycota(Say that three times fast!) which form into long tubes or branches that can look a lot like a fern or even coral.
This sporangia acts as a single structure and can even move small distances to help find more suitable surroundings or search out new food supplies.
Once the sporangia are near the end of their life cycle, the amoebae will release spores into the surrounding area.
These tiny spores ride the winds or are picked up by bugs or small animals, and are carried away to create more amoebae elsewhere to keep the life cycle continuously moving forward.
So the next time you’re out walking or checking out your favourite nature nook, keep your eyes peeled. There might just be a slime mould lurking nearby!
If you find one, feel free to get close and take a look. But don’t touch them.
They’re not poisonous or anything. In fact, they’re nearly all completely harmless unless you have allergies. But they’re often very delicate!
Slime moulds can actually solve mazes! Numerous experiments have shown that not only can they find a path to food within a maze, they’ll even withdraw any parts of their organism that went down a wrong path once they’ve found the solution!
Most slime moulds hate light and will actively move away from it, slowly oozing toward darker areas at a rate of a few millimetres per hour.
A single pinch of moist, nutrient-rich soil can contain thousands of individual slime moulds.
Scientists believe that cellular slime moulds might have been on Earth for at least 600 million years with some of their ancestors being here close to a billion years ago!
Explore the various forms of slime mould out there and discover how surprisingly smart these little amoebas are!