It’s been raining pretty much every day here lately, and evidently it’s a good time to be a slime mold. On Monday I came home to find this one oozing along on the old hickory stump at the edge of my yard:
I’m completely ignorant of slime molds, but I took this opportunity to finally take a look at the Illustrated Guide to Common Slime Molds (by Peter Katsaros) I bought earlier this year. This one appears to be Fuligo septica, the same species that caused a stir in the town of Garland, Texas in 1973, to the point where citizens demanded that the Governor call in the National Guard. This was after firemen had tried to destroy it by hosing it down, which only caused it to grow larger. A mycologist arrived on the scene after reading about it in the paper and was able to calm everyone down.
This slowly creeping stage of a slime mold is called the plasmodium, and it is feeding on microorganisms while in this form. It is an ephemeral stage, and when I checked on Tuesday the slime mold in my yard looked like this:
This is the final, spore-producing state, called the sporophore. The remains of part of the plasmodium were left behind in what looks like a tangled mass of spider silk:
On Wednesday the sporophores had darkened. It looks pretty much the same today.
It has been demonstrated that slime mold spores can still be viable after sixty years, and they probably can last a lot longer than that. Many insects feed on them, in some cases helping to disperse them, and at least one family of beetles (Sphindidae, the “cryptic slime mold beetles”) consists entirely of species that feed exclusively on slime molds both as larvae and as adults. I suppose I should keep an eye on the sporophores and see who shows up.