“Why would anyone dump a pile of livers on stump in the middle of the woods?”, I asked myself. Not hearing an immediate answer from within (or, thankfully, without) I stepped off the trail to examine said “liver” pile. I went closer and could perceive the yellow veins coursing about the hunks of raw flesh, yet saw that these same veins spilled down over the wood and entered into various nooks and crannies of the stump. After a silent “whoa, that’s weird” I realized these things weren’t livers at all – they were liver-colored fungi. The yellow veins that gave the pile a definite organ-like look were the dendritic tendrils of a yellow slime mold feeding on the fungus. For the second time this year I was lured in by a slime mold on a stump (recall the chocolate tube slime mold from this past summer).
Without giving everything away, right away, this creepy yellow mat of stump veins belonged to a type of slime mold called a Fragile Slime Mold. When “fruiting” this species produces hundreds of spore cases which resemble bunches of yellow plastic grapes. To some these pod clusters look like insect eggs, so this type of slimy mold is often referred to as the Egg Shell, or Insect Egg Slime Mold. In the plasmodial (moving) phase, however, they bear no resemblance to insect eggs what-so-ever. The name still applies regardless.
There is no other way to describe this particular situation (the pseudo- liver thing) without using the word “creepy.” In fact, there is really no way to talk about slime molds in general without using that word. These organisms are literally and figuratively creepy. Slime molds are neither plant, animal, nor fungi. They are not even molds for crying out loud (“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it an..y…..wait, that doesn’t make sense in this context does it?). They are basically blobs of cytoplasm functioning as an amoeba colony. In other words they deliberately move about seeking nutrients. Because they move relatively rapidly, they are… well…creepy!
One source described this ability to move as a chemical democracy. The detection of nutrients at one point will cause the “all for one and one for all” call to course through the being and it will send out feelers until the prize is reached. It is a non-thinking response (I know people who travel 65 mph in a similar non-thinking mode). Although not land speed demons, some slime molds have been recorded moving at a rate of 1 inch per hour. Many years ago, a slime mold actually solved a maze. Like a slow motion mouse it arrived at the “cheese” without error. Again, I say…creepy.
The Fragile Slime Mold pictured here was actively feeding. Once detected, the food source is surrounded and slowly digested with enzymes. One of the characteristics of this species is its tendency to spread out into bright yellow net-like reticulations.
NOTE: I invite you to read the following, and final, paragraph in your best (internal) Peter Laurie voice. If you are not alone, but want to be, you can perform this exercise out loud.
Only hours after a heavy rainstorm doused the landscape, when it was safe from the drying effects of wind and sun, the plasmodium oozed out from the stumpy crevices and proceeded to take sustenance from the large rotting liver fungus. Twenty four hours later (see below) only a few snaky tendrils remained. The satiated creature had withdrawn back into its dark moist lair. All evidence of its existence was completely gone by the third day. But, it will be back (cue the synthesizer and end with a veiny yellow blast accompanied by Psycho music).