Check out these stunningly surreal close-up photographs of slime molds

Originally published at: Check out these stunningly surreal close-up photographs of slime molds | Boing Boing


Man, I love slime molds and fungi and lichens. I am not sure I have ever encountered a slime mold in the wild, though.

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They’re so varied in appearance depending on their species and life cycle stage, it can be hard to tell! The two I see most often are Fuligo septica, the “dog vomit slime mold” and Stemonitis splendens, the “chocolate tube slime mold”


Slime molds are totally freaky. Multiple cells (like thousands) can merge together to form single, giant cells with lots of nuclei, and creep about as a single organism - and then later separate again into multiple cells. They’re useful for solving “traveling salesman” problems, finding the most efficient route between different locations. They’ll avoid bitter substances (because they tend to be toxic), but exposure to a non-toxic bitter substance can teach them to ignore it. That’s not unusual, but if the mold that learned this was made up of multiple nuclei, and those individuals separate, they’ll retain this information and in fact pass it on to new clusters they join later. So there’s some sort of memory that exists on a cellular level.

It took me forever to realize I had those in my yard - in part because they can look so different at different stages in their lifecycle. (I most often saw the brown, dry lump left after that yellow fruiting body dries out.) I often mistook them for some sort of fungal mass. I wonder if I have other types that are going unrecognized as well.

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Is there some way to view these that doesn’t involve having to create an account on Instagram? After the first two it blocks me with some login screen.

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Slime mold, Instagram, Facebook … (shrugs)

He also posts to his own website:

Something doesn’t seem quite right here though. There are two big groups of slime molds that evolved separately from a common single-celled ancestor…the myxogastrids which have multiple nuclei, and the dictyosteliids where multiple cells come together. The traveling salesman problem is usually mentioned in Physarum, a myxogastrid, but the joining clusters would be a dictyosteliid thing. Do you have some link about the learning transferring?

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Thanks so much! I didn’t realize Physarum could do that too. :blush:

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