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Physarum polycephalum

 

Slime Mold

KingdomFungiMushrooms, lichens, gel fungi, yeasts, and molds; also called eukaryotes
DivisionMyxomycotaSlime molds, from the Greek words μύξα (myxa), which means “mucus”, and μύκης (myces), which means “fungus”
ClassMyxomycetesMacroscopic slime molds
SubclassEndosporeaeSlime molds with endospores
OrderPhysaralesMyxo slime molds
FamilyPhysaraceaeSlime mold family
GenusPhysarumMycetozoan slime molds
SpeciespolycephalumMeans “many-headed slime”

About plant names...

This slime mold has some pretty unsavory names, like dog vomit, but it is commonplace in damp weather, on rotting leaves, wood and in bark mulch. It munches on fungal spores, bacteria, and other microbes. Slime mold is pretty amazing stuff. It is a “eukaryotic microbe”—a giant, single-celled organism, one of more than 30,000 species. And it’s smart:

A team of Japanese and Hungarian researchers, writing in the journal Nature, claimed to have found the slime mold Physarum polycephalum is capable of finding the shortest way through a maze. Pieces of the slime mould were enticed through a 30-square-centimetre (five-square-inch) maze by the prospect of food at the end of the puzzle. The researchers concluded that the creature was exhibiting a kind of primitive intelligence.

Normally, the slime spreads out its network of tube-like legs, or pseudopodia, to fill all the available space. But when two pieces of food were placed at separate exit points in the labyrinth, the or­ganism squeezed its entire body between the two nutrients. It adopt­ed the shortest possible route, effectively solving the puzzle. [1]

So why not put it to work? Say, by designing a mass transport system, as these researchers from the University of Oxford did.

Identification: The bright yellow, jellylike slime, which seems to appear out of nowhere after wet weather, is conspicuous and hard to confuse. Photo 16 shows it in a hard, crusty phase, with a white powdery top. In photo 8, it is in its dormant, dried out phase. This looks a bit like soil, but it is a fine powder which explodes like a smoke bomb if you step on it.

Edibility: Just kidding.

I took a time lapse movie of this slime mold, atop some decaying bark mulch. It appeared to be dormant for most of the several hours, but in this segment, covering about 15-20 minutes, it seems to come alive like a creature from the Twi­light Zone:

(Or see it larger here .)

Online References:

Physarum polycephalum on Wikipedia

Physarum polycephalum at Utah State University’s Fun Facts About Fungi

Physarum polycephalum on www.fnanaturesearch.org

Physarum polycephalum on Stephen Sharnoff Photography

Physarum polycephalum on Discover Life

Physarum polycephalum on www.buildingthepride.com (grow your own!)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

1 · 9/5/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 4½ × 7" (11 × 17 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

2 · 8/22/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 11 × 7" (27 × 18 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

3 · 6/16/2012 · Groton Place and Sabine Woods, Groton, MA
≈ 4½ × 4½" (12 × 12 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

4 · 5/17/2010 · Wildlife Pond Loop Trail, Beaver Brook Association Conservation Lands, Hollis, NH
≈ 8 × 5" (19 × 13 cm) ID is uncertain

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

5 · 6/20/2007 · Pepperell, MA
≈ 9 × 6" (22 × 15 cm)

1From the Wikipedia article, in the Intelligence section.

Physarum polycephalum description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Aug 2013.

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Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

6 · It looks like the slime mold altered the development of the mushroom. · 7/12/2013 · Wooden Bridge, East Pepperell, MA
≈ 6 × 5" (14 × 13 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

7 · 6/20/2007 · Pepperell, MA
≈ 15 × 10" (37 × 24 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

8 · 8/22/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 5 × 3½" (13 × 9.2 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

9 · 8/26/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 5 × 3½" (13 × 9.2 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

10 · 9/5/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 5 × 4" (12 × 9.9 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

11 · 6/21/2007 · Pepperell, MA
≈ 17 × 11" (42 × 28 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

12 · 7/22/2012 · Wapack Trail, Pack Monadnock, Peterborough, NH
≈ 14 × 9" (35 × 23 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

13 · 8/22/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 3 × 4½" (7.9 × 11 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

14 · 8/20/2009 · Tom & Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 17 × 12" (44 × 29 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

15 · 9/5/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 5 × 4½" (13 × 11 cm)

Physarum polycephalum (Slime Mold)

16 · 10/5/2009 · Tom and Susan’s, Pepperell, MA
≈ 9 × 6" (22 × 15 cm)