Slime Molds Are Smarter Than The Average Lowlife

04 Jun

All alone at twilight in the deep dank woods, you might happen upon mysterious little beings…not elves or pixies, but silent creepers stranger than fiction, Slime Molds.   One visited my pal Pat Bowman this week in Virginia….who, entranced, showed the Blob to her granddaughter, snapped some pictures, pointed to the right music, and suggested this life form for the blog.    Right on!  And three cheers for a groovy grandmother who shows slime molds to the children.    A gift more precious and real than Disney.

Slime molds may sometimes look like the dog hurled, but others come in rainbow colors, and some even glow in the dark.  They are smart too…more on that in a moment.  They may be slimy, but are not terribly or always so.    And they are not molds, that is, they are not fungi.

SM’s haunt their own little corner of evolution.    Even with DNA evidence, their relationships remain a little murky.   We’ll gloss over the textbook material by saying they are Protists probably most closely related to amoebas, although that doesn’t tell us much.      Slime Molds come in two (or three depending on your standpoint) different types, but I don’t want to slip into academic taxonomy.    Better to get acquainted in a friendly way with something any native plant enthusiast may discover out in a natural habitat, or overlook.   Here’s a good jumping off point link for those wishing to look deeper. CLICK 

Slime mold JB

By John Bradford (Fuligo septica?)

You might say a slime mold resembles (or is in a sense) a giant amoeba, sometimes as large as a saucer, although its mass originates from aggregation of smaller cells during their odd life cycles.   In any case, during the “big amoeba” stage the slime mold slithers and streams, engulfing organic nutrition as it flows.  Seen with time lapse, some seem to pulsate as they go.  Enjoy this video, remembering this is a single cell, sort of:  CLICK

You don’t see Slime Molds each day, and if you don’t look, you might never unless one shows itself on old wet wood mulch, then looking like a melted candy bar.   The relatively common plasmodial slime mold Physarum polycephalum is bright yellow and easy to spot.   Smaller cellular slime molds are variable in size and aspect, often hiding in decaying wet wood, or on moist manure.  Spot them by their Tootsie Roll Pop spore cases, sometimes in vibrant colors.   When the going gets rough, slime molds disappear, some forming dormant stages able to sit tight 75 years or more.


I suspect the golden globes to be the slime mold Trichia decipiens, but never trust a guy who lies down in a meadow and contemplates hog manure.

“Plants” and other life forms can be intricately responsive to their environment in ways previously under-observed and under-appreciated, now more visible via various technologies.  Sometimes the intricacies from an anthropomorphic standpoint look like intelligent behavior.   Slime Molds are darlings of the “plant intelligence” fanciers, and of pundits who like to self-promote by misrepresenting overblown semi-science as we gasp in rapt awe.   That said, a humble lowly Slime Mold can achieve  surprising aptitude in efficient streaming, which is far from random or disorganized.

physarum 2 pb

Physarum on old mulch, by Pat Bowman

Applying the results of broad “exploratory” slithering, Slime Molds can organize themselves into networks connecting food sources in optimal patterns, when viewed from above suggestive of road systems linking major cities.   Or to a different imagination, maybe something ectoplasmic out of Ghostbusters.


slime mold john

Photo by John Bradford.  Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa?


After a probing slither, they abandon foodless cul-de-sacs to stream only where there’s a reward.  Some overcome “inhibitions” and cross initially intimidating barriers, as I might hesitate to cross a frayed rope bridge  until spotting a cheeseburger across the chasm.    I always thought of an amoeba as a nasty germ that caused dysentery,  not as the Brainiac of the lower life forms.   Live and learn. (Slime Molds do.)


Posted by on June 4, 2016 in Uncategorized


9 responses to “Slime Molds Are Smarter Than The Average Lowlife

  1. League,Susan L

    June 4, 2016 at 6:35 am

    I receive a lot of publications, newsletters, etc. via email. This is absolutely the most delightful one I receive and I always look forward to the next one. George Rogers has such a gift for writing. Anyone who can hold your interest and make you want to know so much more about slime molds is a genius!

    Susan L. League
    Education/Training Specialist I – FCC Coleman Project
    UF/IFAS Sumter County Extension
    Villages Government Annex
    8033 East CR466
    The Villages, FL 32162
    Office 352-689-4670
    Fax 352-689-4669
    Cell 901-491-7295

    • George Rogers

      June 4, 2016 at 9:25 am

      Thanks Susan! Tell that to my botany class eight after a test…

  2. theshrubqueen

    June 4, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I must have a champion slime mold under my Pygmy Date Palm, thanks for the ID was wondering what the heck that thing was!

  3. Beth

    June 4, 2016 at 9:17 am


  4. George Rogers

    June 4, 2016 at 9:21 am

    and right back atya

  5. Steve

    June 4, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I remember learning about them in my college mycology class (say that ten times fast). Myxomycetes and Acrasiomycetes. You can keep a plasmodial streaming slime mold (myxomycete) as a pet in a petri dish. I think you just need a wet paper towel, and you can feed it bacteria. My professor (Dr. Dave Janos at UM) recommended putting the pink bacteria from the toilet on some rolled oats on one side of the container, and the slime mold would ooze over to it, and like flamingoes, would turn pink. I haven’t tested this, but it would be a fun experiment for sure. My project for the class was to see which habitats cellular slime molds occupy (Acrasiomycetes). I collected soil from a hammock, a pineland, and a mangrove swamp. I got mature fruiting bodies from both hammocks and pinelands (but not mangroves). The mobile stage is called a grex, which is a great scrabble word, and it looks like a Schmoo.

    Great topic George!

    • George Rogers

      June 4, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      Thanks Steve, I’m tempted to domesticate one and tie lapse it. Might be fun…could time lapse it pickled tink. Weird isn’t it how almost-everywhere cellular slime molds are? I mean, also, popping to life in fairly fresh manure. I’ll use grex the next time I need a word with an X. Thanks for the rich add-on.

  6. Gregory Overcashier

    June 10, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    As an average Lowlife, I could have told you this stuff. Great article again George. These are the things that make me never want to leave my yard and observe every square inch.

    • George Rogers

      June 10, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks Greg…when I was a kid, there was a teacher who made a point of taking the students and exporing every square inch of the school grounds…it was a good idea!


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