When out in the woods at the moment take a look at some of the small stuff as it can be truly fascinating! A magnifying glass, pocket loupe or macro lens will be useful as these tiny colonial animals look far more interesting when viewed close-up and enlarged. In this article all these examples of slime molds (aka slime moulds) were found in mesic Mixed Bottomland forest at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Monroe , Louisiana, within a 200 square yard radius. They like warm, humid conditions.
Rotten wood and leaf mulch can provide a perfect damp haven for the slime molds such as Honeycomb Coral Slime Mold ,Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa pictured above and the Carnival Candy Slime Mold, Arcyria denudata pictured below with the delicate feather-like fronds of the Chocolate Tube Slime, Stemonitis splendens.
You might think some of these scenes are more reminiscent of a marine environment, the colonial mats resemble sponges and some tentacular structures perhaps benthic worms , anemones or sea pens. These are all colonies of tiny creatures (Protists) that change their colony shapes in tune with their needs and behaviours at the time. What might be a transparent slimy film of amoeba-like eukaryotic organisms on Monday could be a mass of little fuzzy balls a week later if the conditions suit them. Same critters, different arrangement. A lot of the fanciest forms are the reproductive phases of the animals. Their spores are motile with whip-like flagellae and can be dispersed variously on the wind and passing animals.
This bright yellow example above is one of the most vivid slime molds, Fuligo septica, the evocatively named Dog Vomit Slime Mold.
Keep an eye out for snakes and spiders while you are looking for these tiny wonders because the venomous Cottonmouths, ants and Black Widow and Recluse spiders also like to live in hollow logs and old rotten stumps too. As always in the woods, watch where you place your feet and hands, not least because you don’t want to be the target of a defensive strike, but also because you wouldn’t want to accidentally crush such delicate structures as these slimes or tiny Pin-wheel fungi.