Thursday, February 11, 2010

Surprise encounter

Along the banks of the Nicomekl River, just upriver from Blackie Spit, John Stewart built his farmhouse in 1894. The farm was in operation for some fifty years; a small community, Elgin, grew up around it. These days, the land and buildings are open to the public as Elgin Heritage Park. An old apple orchard, ancient barns and sheds, the farmhouse, with costumed staff; that's the centre area. Around it are marshy river banks noisy with ducks, geese and assorted peeps, a marina, shady forests, picnic areas, trails ... variety for many days of happy wandering.

We spent a few hours there a couple of days ago, mostly puttering around the marshy areas trying to find the sandpipers we could hear, always just beyond the next bank or across that sandspit ...

On a trail through the woods, heading for another path across the marsh, we came across these fungi:

Fuzzy turkeytail look-alikes. About a couple of inches across.

I love the colours and textures in this fallen tree.

There are two kinds of shelf fungus here, maybe three. The grey "hoof" is pointing downward with respect to the trunk; it grew out while the tree still stood. The paler clump grew after it fell, and is sideways, pointing towards the ground.

Grey and green striped shelf fungi. And a little green stripy blob.

Another bracket fungus, maybe turkeytail. More colour in the old log.

And we'd never seen these before:

Some sort of slime mold, maybe tubifera ferruginosa. Maybe not.

There was only the one clump of these, growing on an old stump. The photos turned out fuzzy; my footing was precarious, half-way up the stump, with the old wood crumbling under me.

I have looked at pink slime molds on webpage after page; there are many photos, but they are of Wolf's milk, aka Toothpaste fungus. But it has a grainy, hard-looking skin; these were more jelly-like, and smooth. All the blobs were about the same size, like a small pea. Along the edges, you can see the little stalks, slightly paler pink. And many of the "pink peas" have a dimple or a hole at the top.

I found one photo that looks almost the same. It is labelled as "tubifera ferruginosa"; these are tubes on stalks. A clear photo of this slime is here; it's not quite what we found.

But I think this holds true for most slime molds: according to the first site,
"This is a slime mould in development, and if you would have come along a few hours later, it would not be easy to spot any more, since in these few hours the pink blob converts into an inconspicuous, small puffball which releases lots – we talk about millions – of pale pinkish spores." (This seems to be translated from the German.)
Slime molds live at first as individual amoeba-like cells. They wander around alone, eating bacteria. When their food supply shrinks, they abandon their solitary life and clump together as one organism. This stage is called a plasmodium. It moves across the ground like one huge amoeba, looking for food and light. Eventually it finds its way into a good spot for fruiting. There, the individual cells (once more becoming individuals, each with their special functions, like bees in a hive) rearrange themselves into support staff (infertile) and reproductive cells, to produce these fruiting bodies.

This is the stage we stumbled upon. It doesn't last long. Once the spores are formed, they quickly dry out, leaving nothing but a smear. The spores blow or wash away and start over as individuals.

No wonder we'd never seen them before!

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