The Real Blob! The Truth About Slime Molds

February 8, 2010

Ever heard of a nefarious, amorphous gelatinous mass with a seemingly insatiable appetite, ingesting and digesting anything and everything it comes in contact with? It’s The Blob, right?! Well, as close as you can get and still operate within real-life parameters…the real blob of which I speak is most commonly known as a slime mold!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Keresh

Now, its name is slightly misleading as it is actually not a mold at all. True slime molds form a plasmodium, a big blob with one membrane and lots and lots (think millions) of diploid nuclei – it is really like one huge cell the size of a medium pizza, a pizza whose many nuclei all divide at the same time. No need to run in terror though, this blob’s top speed is around one millimeter per hour.

What is most interesting about these true plasmodial slime molds is that they USED to be lumped in with all of the molds and fungus in Kingdom Fungi. But, because of their unique characteristics – such as the fact that they have a motile stage of life – they are now more commonly associated with Kingdom Protista! Other members of this kingdom are giant sea kelp and amoeba, just to name a few. This kingdom is a sort of island of misfit toys; most organisms belonging here do so because they do not qualify as animals, plants, or fungi and are not bacteria.

Physarum polycephalum

The most common image evoked when ‘slime mold’ is mentioned is that of Physarum polycephalum, a large yellow amoeboid mass on mulch or leaf litter, oozing along looking for bacteria to ingest.  Slime molds do, however, come in a variety of sizes and colors. Some slime molds found in the tropics are even bioluminescent! Who wouldn’t want some glow-in-the-dark ooze? I know I do.

But, kids, the fun must end sometime. As our blobby buddy matures, it turns into a grey, dust like material and grows spore bearing structures; many look like little balls or popsicles on the end of thin stalks and can vary in color – they even come in pink! When the spores are eventually released, they settle in new locations, starting the whole process of ooze and growth all over again. Isn’t life amazing?

I’ll end with one of my favorite fungus funny bone ticklers:  A mushroom, a skunk, and a slime mold walked into a bar. The bartender happily served the skunk and the slime mold, but told the mushroom, “We don’t serve your kind here.” The mushroom indignantly replied, “Why not? I’m a fun-gi!”

Erin C
Authored By Erin Crouch

As a Youth Education Marketing Coordinator, Erin is responsible for keeping the 20 districts to the North of Houston informed about everything going on at the Museum. She also works booths at various conferences to help promote HMNS to educators. She is crazy about all things entomological, loves working with special needs children, and is always involved in some sort of creative endeavor.

2 responses to “The Real Blob! The Truth About Slime Molds”

  1. zane voogd says:

    The biggest one I’ve ever seen was about 6 inches across but it was moving about 2 inches an hour, maybe three. It was dull orange color and about as hard as orange peel, maybe that was it’s last gasp. Icouldn’t find a sign of it the next day.

  2. jon i says:

    thank you so much for the funny and informative article. as a science teacher, I doubly appreciated your knowledge and entertaining way of sharing it. i found two 6 inchers on my mulch pile this evening and i now know what species they are, thanks to your article and excellent photo.

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