There comes a time every now and then when we blunder into something that does not fit any typical description. It is always nice to categorize our findings as animal, plant, or mineral. But what can we do when our finding does not fit any of the above or any additional “normal” category? In such a case we are talking about a strange middle-earth being called a Slime Mold. Slime molds crawl yet are not animals. They produce spores but are not fungi. They grow stems but are not plants and, since they are alive, they are certainly not mineral. They are creepily weird.
A strange brown growth atop a cut log recently caught my attention. It was a quarter-sized tuft of red-brown “hair” emerging out of the wood. This peculiar structure turned out to be the fruiting stage of a type of slime mold called the Chocolate Tube Slime Mold. It took a bit of homework to make that designation because, well, honestly I kept looking to fungi for an answer (and the fungi did not answer back). Only a chance encounter with an illustration brought me about to the Chocolate Tube Slime Mold. It’s hard to believe that someone actually came up with such an appealing name for a mold, but there it is. Officially called the Brown Stemonitis Mold, this thing still didn’t look like a slime mold per se. It was brown and moldy, but not exactly slimy.
One description of slime molds describes them as “sprawling crawling plasmodium slime.” They slink about with extended pseudopods and feed on decaying wood. They do not root, but move about in the fashion of an amoeba (thus the animal like reference). When the food runs low, “they”- whoever “they” are – stop and gather their collective selves to produce fruiting bodies full of spores. The spores blow away into the wind to germinate into new slime molds.
This example was beyond the slime stage and into the “we must leave” stage. The spore structure was a thing of beauty and not a random growth produced by some blob. It was at the stage where the collective must die so that the ONE may live on. No, I can’t seem to think of this spore producing ameboid-like creature as a Chocolate Tube Slime Mold. I’m sorry, that is just too cute of a name for this life form. It is Stemonitis –“they” are Stemonitis. Now, tell me that you are not even slightly fascinated by this thing.