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Searching for gorgeous slime molds

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Slime molds are decomposers of the forest,” explains filmmaker Ian McCluskey in this Oregon Public Broadcasting video. “Often found on rotting logs, they’re commonly mistaken for fungus.” But slime molds, myxomycetes, are not fungi, plants, or animals.

Slime mold is a soil-dwelling amoeba. PBS NewsHour describes it as “a brainless, single-celled organism, often containing multiple nuclei.” From OPB:

“More than 900 species of slime molds have been discovered. They can be found all over the earth, including deserts and in the Arctic. They are one of the planet’s oldest living organisms dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. They first appeared in scientific literature in the 1700s, yet 300 years later, very little is known about them and very few people study them.”

slime molds
slime molds
Crow Vecchio and Kelly Brenner are two dedicated enthusiasts who do study slime molds. Separately, the Mount Rainier National Park volunteer ranger and Seattle-based writer explore the Pacific Northwest forests looking for these “gorgeous” yet overlooked single-cell organisms. Crow Vecchio explains a point of fascination:

“It’s interesting to note that slime molds were originally believed to be fungal, but they do things that fungi don’t do. They move… If you feed them, say two o’clock in the afternoon; Give them an oat, keep doing this for two weeks. Then one day, don’t give them the oat at two o’clock. Guess what? They’re going to still show up because they’re expecting their lunch. And that’s for real.

“How can it do that without a brain?”

slime molds
Crow Vecchio
More history from Oregon Public Broadcasting:

“Brenner is following the footsteps of one of the first champions of slime molds, Gulielma Lister. Lister was a British naturalist, who, with her father, identified hundreds of slime mold species in the late 1800s, and published the first comprehensive book, which she illustrated herself.

“Lister would correspond with anyone interested in slime molds, regardless of their academic background. One unexpected connection was Emperor Hirohito of Japan whose own curiosity had been piqued by slime molds. Finding species around his summer palace inspired the emperor to write a book like Lister. The ensuing 296 pages, published in the 1930s, became the first book in Japanese on slime molds.”

Kelly Brenner
Read more about Kelly Brenner’s book Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World in the Seattle Times: New book shows where Mother Nature is hidden in Seattle.

Related reading at PBS NOVA: Eight smart things slime molds can do without a brain.

Watch more videos about naturalists, collections, and women in STEM:
Hoh Rainforest, Washington State’s temperate rainforest
• In the forest canopy with pioneering ecologist Nalini Nadkarni
• How Douglas Fir Trees Shaped The Northwest
• A pacific razor clam burrows rapidly into the sand

Bonus: Hoh Rainforest, Washington State’s temperate rainforest.

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