Slime Molds: Pretty, Smart, and Hungry


Ancient, mysterious, and sometimes strangely beautiful:  slime molds are a kind of soil-dwelling amoeba that spend part of their lives as plain old single-celled organisms.  However, they can also band together to form fantastically alien-looking forms like those here.  Some can crawl.  Some have beautiful colors.  And they are all excellent at finding their way to the food.  Case in point:

In 2000, Japanese researchers placed Physarum polycephalum — the name means “many-headed slime mold” — in a maze, along with two blocks of food. It extended its tendrils down the corridors of the maze, bending around curves, reaching dead ends and then backing out of them. After four hours, the slime mold was feasting on both blocks of food.

Another researcher takes a slightly more whimsical approach:

 … a favorite hobby is challenging them to build highway systems. In 2010 he and his colleagues placed a slime mold in the middle of a map of Spain and Portugal, with pieces of food on the largest cities. The slime mold grew a network of tentacles that was nearly identical to the actual highway system on the Iberian Peninsula.

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