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Slime Moulds

Slime mould on leaves

Movement, memory and problem solving are abilities we normally associate with animal behaviour and a nervous system but is that always the case? Could a brainless organism exhibit intelligent behaviour, could it be capable of learning and if so, can we learn anything from it?

If you pay attention when you're outside on an autumn day you might see something unusual. In amongst the leaves, around the mushrooms and toadstools, oblivious to the animals running around making their winter stores, there's something that doesn't quite fit it.

I guarantee that you've seen them but maybe not noticed. A few orange spots on the end of a twig, tiny iridescent baubles or a foaming yellow mass on the bark of a tree. If you stopped to look and waited a while you might even realise that these things are alive - and moving with a purpose, just not very quickly.

These strange organisms are not plants, they may be mobile but they're not animals. They make mushroom like fruiting bodies but they're not fungi. They are curious misfits in our labeled and classified world - Slime moulds - amoebae that make spores, a simple description that sums them up neatly but doesn't remotely explain how strange they really are.

 

Keeping slime moulds as 'pets'

The slime mould Physarum polycephalum is very easy to keep, it's harmless and undemanding, it can live on a sheet of kitchen towel in an old margarine tub and needs just oats for food. Making maps and mazes for them to solve and explore is easy to do. Have a look at our guides for information on how to keep them, how to find them in the wild and what amazing tricks these strange organisms can do.