Yet another group of exquisite creatures. Slime molds are beautiful and fascinating in their complex growth. These molds are possibly the earliest creatures to emerge on land. The whole NY Times article is worth reading, as is this slide show. They’re a good example of why the beauty of many science photographs is a joy.
Finding its way In an experiment, a slime mold in the outside chamber made it to an oat flake in the central chamber of a maze.
If you want to find life forms that truly seem otherworldly, your local forest is a much better place than your local cineplex. It is home to creatures that are immensely old, fundamentally bizarre and capable of startlingly sophisticated behavior. They are the slime molds.
Slime molds are a remarkable lineage of amoebas that live in soil. While they spend part of their life as ordinary single-celled creatures, they sometimes grow into truly alien forms. Some species gather by the thousands to form multicellular bodies that can crawl. Others develop into gigantic, pulsating networks of protoplasm.
While naturalists have known of slime molds for centuries, only now are scientists really starting to understand them. Lab experiments are revealing the complex choreography of signals in some species that allows 20,000 individuals to form a single sluglike body.
….By analyzing the DNA of different slime mold species, researchers are reconstructing their evolutionary history, which turns out to reach back about a billion years. Since all known slime molds live on land, that suggests that they were early pioneers, arriving hundreds of millions of years before animals or plants.
“They may be as old as the terrestrial ecosystem,” said Sandra Baldauf, an evolutionary biologist at Uppsala University in Sweden.