The following is the first of a new blog series from Monique, one of our new staff members. She will be writing once a month about all things nature that you can find at Topsham Public Library and its environs. It’s packed full of fun facts and resources where you can learn more. Enjoy!
Hi! Monique here, one of the newest library staff members and a bit of a nature nerd. If you ever see someone partly enveloped in some tree, that’s probably me. There are so many amazing things to notice in nature and I’ve made a bit of a habit of it. I can’t help but notice nature wherever I happen to be – viewing a gorgeous sunset from the Hannaford parking lot, listening to Fish Crows at the Tontine Mall green, or taking in the endless wonders at the Cathance River Nature Preserve.
Whether cultivated or wild, there’s plenty of nature to notice around Topsham Public Library and I will be sharing some interesting finds with you on occasion. We’re going to jump right in with something weird but wondrous that I’ve been observing over the past month.
What would you think if I told you that there’s an organism on the library grounds that is slowly moving about yet it has no appendages? It’s alive but it’s not an animal, plant or fungus. It lacks a nervous system but can solve mazes and remember the shortest route, problem solve and habituate. It changes its appearance so much that you might not recognize it hours later. And… it was most likely the inspiration for the 1958 movie, The Blob (borrow our copy if you’ve never seen it).
It’s a type of slime mold called Fuligo septica, more commonly know as “scrambled egg” or “dog vomit” slime mold. You can probably see why. It starts off in this bright yellow, amoeba-like stage and slowly creeps in search of food. This video does a good job explaining how it moves and has some cool time-lapse footage. When it has exhausted the food supply or conditions become unfavorable, it transforms into its fruiting body form seen below.
This type of slime mold is often found in bark mulch and despite what the movie would have you believe, it is harmless. It won’t bother you or nearby plants. In fact, it’s not even a mold but a plasmodial member of a family of single-celled organisms. Have you noticed it at the library or seen it elsewhere? Perhaps you’ll be curious enough to stop and inspect it a bit more closely next time. I won’t think it odd at all to see you crouched under the tree.
Resources to cultivate your curiosity:
- The Biology of Slime Molds
- A Handbook of Slime Molds
- Myxomycetes : biology, systematics, biogeography, and ecology (don’t let the title intimidate you, the photos are worth it)
Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature
Neat Note: Have you heard the term biomimicry or biomimetics? It is “an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies” (source: Biomimicry Institute). Because slime mold is so good at optimizing routes to food sources, it is being studied for efficient ways to create networking and transportation systems. It’s fascinating what we can learn from nature!