We’re really getting a taste of high summer now with frequent thunderstorms, 90 degree temperatures, and high humidly. As soon as that happens I start thinking about fungi and slime molds because those are the conditions that many of them prefer. Unfortunately slime molds can be difficult to identify and, even after hours of looking through books and online, I still can’t identify the tiny transparent slime mold in the above photo. Some slime molds start life transparent and then change both their shape and color, which doesn’t help. They also often grow in very dark places, so some of these photos were taken under LED light.
The reason slime molds interest me is because they are very beautiful, and also fascinating. Nobody really seems to know exactly how they move, but they do. When the microorganisms that they feed on become scarce, many of these single celled organisms meld together and move toward food as a single entity. The white finger slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. fruticulosa) in the above photo reminded me of a bed of kelp under the sea, all swaying in unison to the pull of a tide only they can feel.
I’ve never seen this slime mold before and I was surprised to see the tiny gray starbursts, which must have been 1/16 of an inch or less, when I looked at the photo. I couldn’t see them in person because they were too small. I haven’t been able to identify them but I think that they are beautiful things. This photo was taken with the aid of an LED light.
As slime molds go, this many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) is usually large and easy to see. This one covered the base of a tree. It was in its plasmodial stage and on the move. This photo was also taken with the aid of an LED light.
According to Wikipedia “a plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is, how do they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is quite amazing.
No need for LED with this scrambled egg (Fuligo septica) slime mold. It is one of a handful that can be found in full sun. The example in the photo is in its spore bearing phase and has formed a mass called an aethalium. Once it has released its spores and completed its life cycle it begins to darken and degrade into a dark red liquid that resembles blood, which can also be seen in the photo. This slime mold feeds on wood and is often found in mulch beds. This one was on a white pine stump.
One of my favorite shapes in the slime mold world is found in these honeycombed, dome shaped fruiting bodies of coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides). They are so small and delicate that one swipe of a finger could wipe out hundreds of them. To find them I look at logs after a rain; to the naked eye they look like white powder on the side of the log. Luckily a shaft of sunlight lit this area enough so I didn’t have to use artificial lighting for this photo.
In this photo, also in natural light, it looked like individual coral slime plasmodia were moving together to form a single mass. Slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism.
Slime molds aren’t the only tiny things that like to grow in dark places. I had to use a flash to get a shot of these yellow coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor.) Each one was no bigger in diameter than a piece of cooked spaghetti, and they stood all of a quarter inch high.
I should say that, though slime molds and fungi like growing in dark places everything needs at least some light, and as I wandered the forest getting some of these photos one morning, I noticed that shafts of cool morning sunlight fell directly on or very near where they grew. Just because we may find them growing “in the dark,” and even though they don’t photosynthesize, that doesn’t mean that they don’t get an hour or two of sunlight each day. Sunlight also brings warmth and as I’ve studied fungi and slime molds over the years I’ve wondered if the reason they grow in a shaft of sunlight is because the soil is warmer there.
Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorphaare) are a type of fungi that often look like a human finger. This one growing out of a crack in a beech log didn’t, but that was because it was a young example. They change their appearance as they age. This one had water droplets on it.
As they age dead man’s finger fungi begin to darken. The lighter areas are covered with spores that are produced in early stages of their development. These fungi cause soft rot in the wood they grow on. Insects or slugs seem to love them, judging by the damage on these examples.
In the final stages of their life dead man’s finger fungi darken until they turn black, and then they simply fall over and decompose. These examples grew at the base of a maple stump. It doesn’t take a very vivid imagination to see what almost look like fingernails on a couple of them. Maybe I should have saved these photos for Halloween.
Even on its lowest setting the LED light I use to photograph mushrooms and slime molds casts a shadow, so I use tissue paper as a diffuser to make the light softer. This photo of these little pinwheel mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) shows what happens when I forget the tissue paper. I’ve been trying to think of a way to eliminate the tissue paper altogether but so far haven’t had any brilliant ideas.
Witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) comes to life when it rains and can swell up dramatically from the hard, dark orange flake form that it takes in dry weather. I find this jelly fungus on tree limbs but it can also be a parasite on other types of fungi. The tremella part of its scientific name comes from the Latin tremere which means “to tremble,” and it does tremble just like gelatin. The mesenterica part of the scientific name is a combination of the Greek mesos, meaning “middle” and the prefix entero meaning “intestine.” Though the example in the photo doesn’t show it, the shape of this fungus often looks quite intestinal.
This is an excellent example of why we should pay attention to scientific names. The description provided by the scientific name of this fungus describes it perfectly in every detail, whereas “witches butter” tells us absolutely nothing, except maybe that the folks who roamed medieval forests were highly superstitious.
These are the largest split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) that I’ve ever seen; easily 3/4 of an inch across. The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, exposing the spore-producing surfaces to the air, and spores are released. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushrooms on earth.
This hot humid weather brings out other creatures too. I’ve seen pink slugs eating fungi many times, but this one leaned more towards yellow-orange and must have been 2 inches long. It was quite dark where it was so I had to use the flash. Slug identification seems close to impossible, at least for me, so I can’t tell you its name.
Beauty is certainly a soft, smooth, slippery thing, and therefore of a nature which easily slips in and permeates our souls. ~Plato
Thanks for stopping in.