Moon Poo, Wolf Milk, Tree Hair And other types of Slime
“There is only one rule to life” said my biology teacher on one of his more whimsical days “for every rule you find you can always find something that breaks it”.
Ignoring the obvious contradiction he preceded to educate us in a creature that was not animal or plant, not multi-cellular or single cellular, but very possibly alien.
In 1973 in Dallas, Texas, firefighters were called out because a strange yellow blob was attacking a telephone pole. The firefighters tried to subdue it with hoses, but the creature grew bigger and climbed up the pole. Locals feared an alien invasion. Yellow blobs had recently been appearing on their lawns and now this giant blob was seemingly eating the telephone pole. Luckily, a local university scientist identified the oozing slime as F. septica. a harmless slime mould.
It is unusual for slime moulds to be this large, they are usually tiny, very slimy and not a mould. Having been banished from the fungi class in recent history for having very little relation to a fungi, they now have their very own kingdom, yet still perplex scientists as to where exactly they fit in. They come in many different colours – yellow, pink, white, green, brown, black – and have many different common names such as Tree Hair, Bubble Gum, Chocolate tubes, Wolf Milk , Dog Vomit and Caca de Luna (Moon Poo) which I’m informed is delicious when fried.
There are two main types of Slime Mold, the Plasmordial – basically one great big cell with many nuclei – and the Cellular – these spend most of their life as single celled amoeba but when food gets short a chemical signal is released and they come together to form “slugs”, with head part, body and tale, that go wondering off to find somewhere better.
At some point they then turn into fruiting bodies, with some of them being sacrificed in order to do this. Their life cycle intrigues scientists for the questions it raises about altruism.
A fairly recent Slime Mould discovery is that although they don’t have a brain, or anything even approaching, they do use a type of external memory. Hansel and Gretal style. Build a small maze in a petri dish, on one side of the maze put your Slime Mould, on the other put a delicious food supply. The Slime mould will work its way round the maze leaving behind a slime trail so it knows where it has been before and doesn’t return there.
Whats more these things are all around, everyday, lurking in the corners of your life, in the garden, in the town, maybe in your house. So with their ability to exist as both single and multi-celluar organisms, their altruism, being able to find their way through mazes, and most of all their ability to still completely baffle humans, slime moulds are fantastic! (And are the future)