29 May 2021

Slime Mold - Alien Landscapes On Earth

Just the thought of mold is something that makes many people involuntarily shudder. Yet there is more to it than meets the eye – particularly if you are lucky enough to see Kim Fleming’s remarkable macrophotography.  Up close we are witness to an enigmatic and beautiful alien world on our own doorstep.

This strange and wonderful thing is Hemitrichia calyculata.  It typically has stalked sporocarps.  These are fruiting bodies which contain sporangia – the mold version of seeds.  They look like the weird plants that featured in numerous 1950s science fiction B-movies.  Or maybe even some strange alien egg pods, left to be discovered by innocent space travelers.  No need to worry, though – at most they reach two and a half millimeters in height.

This is tubifera ferruginosa, but those in the know like to call it the red raspberry slime, for obvious reasons - even though it dulls with age.  Its fruitbodies are bunched together like the fruit and they typically form through June till November.  The above specimen is about one centimeter across and these can form up to fifteen centimeters.  No danger that they will take over the world then!  The one above is immature; later on it will grow to look like a bunch of miniature cigars (bottom).

These look as if they should be in an aquarium somewhere, rather than on a piece of wood.  Many people confuse slime molds with fungi and it is true that they do regularly form spore bearing structures that look like those of the real thing.  However, unlike fungi, slime mold does not penetrate the wood on which it forms.

When the kids leave home, it is at last time to relax a little.  This specimen is cribraria cancellata and the spore cases are empty.  This beautifully taken shot makes them look almost ethereal in the white light.  The spores would have been a reddish purple color but have long since been released to the wind.  This one can reach a massive four millimeters in height.

Anyone for a popsicle?  Forming structures called plasmodia, slime molds take in particle foods in the same way that amoeboid way.  Things that make you go mmm, number five hundred and seventy six.  This plasmodia creeps over the surface of (often) wood and engulfs bacteria, fungi spores and tiny plants.   Now, this is beginning to sound like something out of a science fiction film!

As the travelers traversed the Canyons of Cailos, they came across what could only have been the habitat of the original inhabitants of the planet Zorg.  It may be easy to get carried away, but this is in fact a species of stemonitis.  These are usually chocolate covered slime that form thin cigar like stems which support the spore bearing structure.

This is known as the wasp nest slime mold, or if you meet it at a formal dinner party, then it would be Metatrichia vesparium.  The spores do very much resemble eggs.  When the plasmodia forms in to a spore bearing structure, like the above, the spores (or sporangia) inside it compress tightly together.  This forms what is then called a pseudoaethalium.  They are often on stalks, like most of the ones we have seen so far.  They can also be what is called sessile.  This simply means they have no stalks.  In fact the leaves on trees, when they have no stalks can also be referred to as sessile.

Here are some fine examples of sessile slime mold.  They are accompanied by a fire-colored beetle larva.  If only Roald Dahl was still alive – he would have a field day with all of these ‘things’.  A follow up to James and the Giant Peach would perhaps be on the cards!

This would be incredibly scary if it were any more than a few millimeters in length.  It is quite
simply amazing that beautifully eerie structures like this occur in nature right underneath our noses and that we so often overlook them.

There is nothing like some fresh sporangia with your eggs and bacon in the morning!  This is Stemonits Gled, otherwise known as the chocolate tube slime.  They look like a set of sparklers, just waiting to be lit when the fireworks go off.

Kuriositas would like to thank Kim Fleming for her kind permission to share these photographs with you. Please visit her superlative Photostream on Flickr where you can see the rest of her amazing pictures, mostly taken within an 86 acre plot of land that includes creeks, a pond, woods and field in Abbeville County, South Carolina.

horned powder-post beetleeggsround fungus beetle with slime moldplant bugpseudoscorpion with eggsleaf-footed bug nymph
spittlebug nymphscriptured leaf beetledamsel nymphfungus infected antslime moldamerican ermine moth
flea beetlethief weeviljumperpupal exuviaoak galls antderbid planthopper
yard snakeyard turkeymagnolia green jumperjumpertreehoppertwirler moth