2012 CAMP SERIES: SECTION 1
It was day one of our camping trip. We had greeted those families that had arrived before us, and spent a little time catching up with everyone. The tent was set up, and I was almost fully recovered from pumping up my air mattress, the folding chairs had been arranged around the camp fire and all the other various details had been attended to. The clouds were thick and dark, but so far the ground remained dry.
With camera in hand, I set out to explore the surrounding area. I had all weekend, but was looking forward to seeing what interesting things I could find in the surrounding forests, and maybe even get a couple photos while I was at it.
Over the last year I have trained myself to spot things that can be easily missed while walking in the woods, but I have also learned to be patient. Although the natural world is filled with amazing things, if you spend a great deal of time outdoors, it may take a while to find something truly new and remarkable.
I had barely gotten beyond the boundary of the campsite when I spotted a small stump maybe ten yards away. Because stumps are in a state of decay, they are often hosts to a wide variety of plant and animal life.
When I reached the stump, I could hardly believe my eyes. A large patch of bright yellow clung to the wood. Although I had never actually seen any of this before, I immediately knew what it was, slime mold. And not just any slime mold. This was the fabled dog vomit slime mold.
Dog vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica) is by no means rare, but since I had never come across any before, it was a big deal to me.
Slime molds are definitely a bizarre and fascinating group of organisms.
First of all, a slime mold is not a plant or an animal, although it does possess characteristics similar to each. And although slime molds share some attributes with the fungi, namely the fruiting bodies and spores they produce, they possess abilities which no fungus can claim.
The depth of the unusual traits of slime mold can be discovered by looking at its life cycle. New life begins with the spoors. When the conditions are right, the spores germinate. As they crack open the spores release several protoplasts (cells)
Each cell takes on one of two shapes. Some develop a whip-like tail (flagellated) and others transform into a creature similar to an amoebae (amoeboid). The particular form that each cell takes on, depends, in part, upon the availability of moisture, as to provide the most efficient form of mobility.
At this stage of development, if the times are tough for either form, the protoplast can change into a dormant stage called a microcyst, where it can bide its time, waiting for more favorable conditions.
Otherwise, the cells of a protoplast subdivide by binary fission to create more protoplasts. Eventually, two protoplasts fuse together to form a zygote (fertilized cell).
Up to this point, the casual observer strolling through the woods would have no clue as to the presents of the slime mold. But now the zygote grows by division and essentially becomes one giant cell with many nuclei. This mass of protoplasm is known as a plasmodium. The plasmodium is still capable of movement, but only at a very slow pace, as it scours the area for bacteria and fungi to consume.
Factors such as exhaustion of the food, source, exposure to light or changes in the moisture or pH level changes, trigger the plasmodium to produce bulbed stalks called fruiting bodies (sporangia). These fruiting bodies develop the spores which start the whole process all over again.
This is a simplified version of the general development of slime molds. Variations do exist among the over 900 species that inhabit the planet.
In my opinion, slime molds in general suffer from a severe case of bad marketing. These amazing entities not only have a remarkable life cycle, but the varieties I have encountered often come in a stunning array of colors as well as some of the most resplendent designs found in nature.
I find it hard to comprehend that those who came up with the name for this group of life forms would chose “slime” and “mold” to discribe them. And in the case of Fuligo septica, they are subjected to further abuse with the moniker “dog vomit slime mold”.
In order to document the enduring beauty of this particular slime mold, I took photos of it over a three day period.
Okay, this slime mold must have had a bad day. But take a look at the photo below, which was taken on the third day. See how… Wow! That really is disgusting. It almost looks like dog vom… Oh, now I see.