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Slime Mould

Dave Cheetham (April)

This brightly coloured slime mould has developed on an old log in the woods opposite Plas y Brenin.

Slime mould is a broad term referring to roughly six groups of organisms
that are a naked mass of protoplasm - the taxonomy is still fluid.
There has always been much disagreement about the classification and
relationships of slime moulds as they have some of the characteristics
of both the plant and the animal kingdoms. Originally, they were
considered Fungi, but now they have been split into various groups. Many
have bright colours such as yellow, brown, orange and white.

Slime moulds feed on microorganisms in decaying vegetable matter. They
can be found in the soil, on lawns, and in woods commonly on deciduous
logs. They are also common on mulch.

Their life cycle is real 'B' movie stuff - they begin life as
unicellular amoeba-like cells which multiply if they encounter their
favourite food bacteria. The amoebae can mate and form 'plasmodia'. Most
slime moulds are smaller than a few centimetres, but the very largest
plasmodia reach areas of up to thirty square meters, making them the
largest undivided cells known. The plasmodia can 'creep' along slowly
but may travel up to several feet a day.

When the plasmodium runs out of
food or when light or moisture changes alter its environment it forms
spore-producing structures (sporangia) which is what are commonly seen
and spores are blown by the wind to new locations to start the cycle
over again. These spore masses can appear as grey to black dusts on
plant materials.

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