Did you miss the previous installment of this mushroom adventure?
Master of refined fractal magnificence, this rich red-brown mushroom is either a Boletus or a Suillus. Its cap has weathered into some pretty fine natural art. Above, you can see the basic structure with the thick central stalk. Although it can’t be seen in the picture, the underside of the cap has pores rather than radial gills.
Oops, I almost stepped on it. Looks like messy yellow goo, but parts of it have lumped into dozens of tiny, shiny, yellow pods. It’s a slime mold. Not actually a mushroom, and not even related to them. This one may have been disturbed while it grew, resulting in the messy appearance. Normally they are quite neat and well groomed, as is the following one…
Amazing shiny pods. Wow.
These red and yellow slime molds are very likely different species, but identifying them would be tough. There are hundreds of kinds with many different appearances. Without a microscopic investigation, these tiny wonders will remain unidentified.
Slime molds are actually pretty cool. Most of the year they exist as billions of individual, completely independent amoeba-like cells, which lose most of their moisture and become durable spore-like dust-motes during the dry summer. But when the rains come, they wake up and start oozing around in the wet leaves, eating bacteria and reproducing like crazy.
When the population and crowding reaches a certain level, they go through a change and start pulling together into a single mass. More and more, they cluster together until they form an actual body. At this stage they can show an amazing kind of collective intelligence.
All at once, they are no longer independent. The slimy, mold-like body forms dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of visible fruiting structures. The vast majority of the individual cells have given up their entire existence to support those few cells that end up turning into spores.
Pretty cool, but I’m glad that’s not how we do it.
Next: black brains