Monday, November 10, 2014

Slime Mold Beauty

Mark Bower shared this set of pictures from one of his early morning forays. It really begins with the photograph below.  The story is in his words.

Physarum polycephalum on a tree trunk -  all pictures from Mark Bower
Close-up of the "heads"
"This is Physarum polycephalum, the "Many-headed Slime", or the "Grape Cluster Slime". This is the plasmodial phase after the single celled organisms have "decided" to coalesce into a creepy yellow mass with bulbous areas (these are the "heads"). These pictures were taken at Valley Water Mill. The second picture (on the right) is a close-up of the "heads"."
Notice the faint streak of yellow in the green bark furrow
"The next day, I excitedly went back to the tree for some better pictures and I thought it was gone (light was dim). I thought the darned thing had slinked away. After scouring the area around the tree (20 yard radius, I gave up on finding it. However, when I went back to the tree, the light was better and it appeared that it was still there, but had changed color to a greenish hue, (see above) and it had developed the grape-like spore stalks."(see below)
  Note that most had turned dark green, now with grape-like spore stalks
"I collected some of these green spore clusters and took them home. After arriving home about 1 1/2 hours later, the green clusters had already turned yellowish. The next day, they broke open and released the brown spores."
Green clusters had already turned toward yellow
Next day - Broken open and releasing spores
Mark's notes led me into a maze of reading on myxomycetes* and P. polycephalumIt is usually found in shady, cool, moist areas, such as logs like Mark's as well as decaying leaves. It seems to sense light causing several reactions.  While light can trigger spore growth it also can repel the slime mold.  Since it is easy to grow and has interesting growth patterns, it has become a favorite "lab rat" for myxomycologists.

Yes there are myxomycologists, and we will all have a chance to meet one who literally"wrote the book" on slime molds.  Dr. Steve Stephenson is a Research Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Arkansas.  He wrote Myxomycetes: A Handbook of Slime Molds as well as many other books and papers on related fields.  He will be at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center on Friday, November 21 at 7:00 PM discussing "Myxomycetes- Slime Molds in Nature."  This is a great opportunity to hear more fascinating details from the expert.

P. polycephalum is not just another pretty face.  Although a single celled organism, it seems to be able as a mass to make decisions that our congress might envy.  More on that in a future blog.

The Kingdom Fungi, Steven Stephenson, Timber Press, 2010.

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