Friday, December 05, 2008

'Social amoebas'

I was going to title this post “dog vomit”, as that is what many people mistake slime moulds for on their lawn, but I didn’t feel it would really attract many people to read it. Neither will ‘social amoebas’ but at least it will sound a bit more socially acceptable.

I’ve had a vague interest in slime moulds ever since I first heard about them. Neither fungus nor amoeba, they are strange organisms which defy classification. There are a range of different species, and can be found all over the world.

It is their life cycle which is particularly fascinating. They start off as individual, single celled organisms, which eat bacteria. When food starts to get scarce, individual cells/organisms come together into a large, multicellular ‘blob’, like a miniature slug and can travel around, albeit very slowly. When food disappears, the colony forms fruiting bodies, which release spores into the air to disperse. Some of the organisms sacrifice themselves to become a stalk, whilst others form the spores which will carry on future generations.

Why have I mentioned these on a gardening blog? Well, why not – they’re amazing organisms that few people know about. But, OK, there is a horticultural link. Some slime moulds do cause problems in the garden, for example club root in brassicas, and they can also cause concern to the keen lawn carer, who thinks that a dog has up-chucked on his sward.

Another talent of the slime mould is its ability to find its way through mazes via the shortest route. They have also been used to control the movement of robots (fantastic headline).

Since starting to write this post, I have discovered that the film ‘The Blob’ was inspired by a slime mould (although I hasten to add that there are no reported cases of humans being consumed by slime moulds). Also, for fans of Spinal Tap, apparently the DVD version has an outtake which involves slime moulds.

This website has some great photos. This site has even better ones.

This post has been brought to you by the Slime Mould Appreciation Society.

9 comments:

JJ said...

Wow. Those are amazing. Animation at the bottom of the second link is a bit unnerving the first time you see it though!

easygardener said...

There is a whole microscopic world out there - beautiful in close up - but still faintly unsettling. The "slime mould solves maze puzzle" is definitely creepy and rather sci-fi!

Victoria said...

Extraordinary. My thanks to the Slime Mould Appreciation Society for a fascinating post.

Gail said...

Fascinating...fantastic looking and able to control robots....slimebots are they in our future! gail

emmat said...

Disgusting... but amazing. I just found one in my money plant pot. I thought for a while it was cat diarhoea. Ugh. It smelllssssss sooooooo bbaaddddd

emmat said...

Ps - what I should have commented

"and a merry christmas, one and all!"

Titania said...

A very interesting post. Thank you for your research! I usually had a few types of the "social amoebas" growing, mainly on old bark mulch. One specie had a beautiful red flower but it smelled and looked like... I look at them as part of the ecological process in decaying wood, the only place I ever found them.
The site you suggest has some spectacular species.

lilymarlene said...

Well....those links showed some really beautiful forms of this. I'm always amazed at how beautiful creation gets the closer you go in, but how rough man-made things are when magnified.
Thanks for those links....an education

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Slime mold & stink horns are some of the most underappreciated weirdness nature has to offer right in our own gardens. Fascinating stuff.