Although slime molds are usually included in mushroom field guides, they are not mushrooms. They are not even fungi. Actually slime molds constitute a group of doubtful taxonomic position, combining characteristics of both plants and animals. No matter how slime molds are classified, they are fascinating organisms.
Slime molds are also considered the “Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes” of the plant world, if indeed they are plants. They undergo such a complete transformation between the time that they first appear until they disintegrate (often within 24 hours) that one may know a species at one point in its development and not recognize it in another. Slime molds begin life as a plasmodium and then transform into an aethalium. This post will look at the plasmodium stage of scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica) and the aethalium will be tomorrow’s topic.
Scrambled egg slime is also commonly called dog vomit slime, a name that I am not particularly fond of, even though from the appearance of the plasmodium, either name could apply. Flowers of tan is another name for F. septica.
The “scrambled egg” or plasmodium stage looks like a large, fluffy, soft, irregular yellow or white mass. It is slimy and mold like. When bruised it “bleeds” a substance that resembles prepared mustard.
Scrambled egg slime mold begins life as a multinucleated mass of undifferentiated cells (protoplasm) that has no cell wall(s) and is contained only by a membrane. This plasmodium has the amoeba-like ability to move by protoplasmic streaming, a series of expansions and contractions through veinlike material. Some slime molds can travel as fast as an inch an hour searching for and engulfing bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa and particles of nonliving organic matter. Scrambled egg slime will colonize dead organic matter and living plants. It has a worldwide distribution.
These pictures, taken in old-growth forest downstream of the Wright Bridge on the North Umpqua Trail (Oregon) show a plasmodium that has moved onto a living dull Oregon grape leaf. (It was still attached to the main plant before I began to examine it.) The veinlike material and protoplasmic streaming are visible in the pictures as is the mustard-like protoplasm.
Fascinating as scrambled egg slime mold is, the imagination can turn it into a creepy sort of organism without too much difficulty. Apparently scrambled egg slime mold was the inspiration for the 1958 movie, “The Blob”. Interestingly “The Blob” was Steve McQueen’s debut in a leading role. I digress!
Is the plasmodium Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? I suppose it depends on your perspective. But tomorrow will be the other half of this split personality – the aethalium.