A few days ago I took my first-ever photo of a slime mold. SO EXCITING!
This little brown clump, less than an inch across, was growing out of the end of a fallen log. (Honestly I’m not sure how I even noticed it.) Specifically this is a slime mold in the genus Stemonitis, I believe.
Why am I so excited about something that’s tiny, brown, and has such a disgusting name? Because slime molds have some of the most fascinating life cycles of any organisms, essentially flipping back and forth between being single-celled organisms and multi-celled organisms. (At one point they were classified with the fungi, but they’re really their own thing.) They start life as single-celled, amoeba-like creatures, but later a bunch of these individual cells will all band together into a blob called a plasmodium that crawls around in search of food. Eventually the blob produces fruiting bodies, which is what you’re seeing in my picture – when I touched them my fingertips came away coated in a soft brown dust of spores. The spores made by the fruiting bodies will develop into a new generation of amoeba-things.
What’s really crazy is that, despite lacking a brain or even a nervous system of any kind, plasmodia show a sort of basic intelligence. They can learn from and anticipate events; they can make decisions. Some are really beautifully bizarre-looking, too, as you can see in the photo gallery at this io9 article.
So in conclusion, yes, I get excited about weird things sometimes. But c’mon. SLIME MOLD.