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Hundreds of thousands of slime moulds can merge together to find food

These strange, mushroom-like structures are the reproductive phase of a type of slime mould, complex amoebae that feed on bacteria on forest floors


8 July 2020

Andy Sands

THOUGH they may resemble something from another planet, these strange, mushroom-like structures are in fact the reproductive phase of Physarum album, a slime mould species that feeds on bacteria on forest floors.


Perched on top of each “stem” is the slime mould’s fruiting body, containing thousands of spores that burst and release their contents when the mould is ready to reproduce. Intricate though these structures are, most are only a few millimetres high. This makes them “painstakingly difficult to find”, says photographer Andy Sands from Hertfordshire in the UK, who took this shot.

Slime moulds start out as single cells and can remain in this form all their lives if enough food is available. However, when supplies are scarce, hundreds of thousands of individuals can merge into a single, moving mass in the search for food.

Fossils indicate that such organisms have existed almost unchanged for some 100 million years, possibly because slime moulds possess a remarkable memory and problem-solving skills. They are so good at working out the most efficient routes to food that researchers have looked to them when designing transport networks.

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