More Cryptic Critters

Slime molds, jelly fungi, and others can be among those overlooked parts of our ecosystems that create a sense of discovery (or revulsion) when encountered and actually noticed.

Jelly Fungi

First, the jelly fungi. They are in fact fungi, so can perhaps be accommodated within our preconceptions of “normal” lifeforms. Generally, they don’t appear as the familiar mushrooms, so allowances must be made for their divergent lifestyles.

Possibly Witches' Butter? Tremella mesenterica

Possibly Witches’ Butter? Tremella mesenterica

Here’s one that is likely to be encountered in Colorado. We believe this is probably Witches’ Butter, Tremella mesenterica. However, several organisms have been given that common name. This species is technically a parasite that lives on another fungus growing in the dead wood.

Another place to encounter Jelly Fungi is in dinner at your favorite Chinese restaurant or dried at the Oriental grocery, where you’ll find Cloud Ears (Auricularia polytricha), also know as Tree Ears or Wood Ears. These gray-brown fungi add interesting texture to dishes when cooked.

More species of Jelly Fungi are discussed at the Be cautious not to confuse these with Jelly Lichens, yet another group of cryptic critters. Read about them here for now; we’ll get a page together later.

Myxomycota: Slime Molds

The slime molds are some of the most unusual organisms known to humankind. When encountered, they are a source of curiosity at best and horror at worst. (See Tom Volk’s Fungi for stories of the latter kind.) Mushroom expert Michael Kuo offers a brief introduction to slime molds, as does UC Berkeley.

Dog vomit slime mold, aka Fuligo septica.

Dog vomit slime mold, aka Fuligo septica. Photo by R. Brune.

Many of Volk’s horror stories center on Dog Vomit Slime Mold, aptly named and apparently regularly encountered in humid urban landscapes, where it enjoys feeding on wood mulches. This one was found in Colorado near Echo Lake, an elevation of more than 3,000 m (10,000 ft). Specimens become less attractive as they mature.

Red slime mold, perhaps an immature Raspberry Slime, Tubifera ferruginosa. Photo by R. Brune.

Red slime mold, perhaps an immature Raspberry Slime, Tubifera ferruginosa. Photo by R. Brune.

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