Monday, July 25, 2005

A new kingdom for the [non-maternal] Mothers

Chocolate Tube Slime Mold

On July 21st the Central Park Mothers [rhymes with Authors] wandered into a new Kingdom. That night the Moth tree [East Drive near the Boat House] seemed to be attracting only one species of Underwing moth -- the Ilia. Though that is a big and beautiful moth, we had overdosed on the species during the previous week when scores and scores of them swarmed around the tree's oozing sap patches.

And so we wandered about a bit. Just a little way down the hill, heading for the Model-Boat Pond Noreen stopped to point out an odd something on the trunk of a tree.It was dark brown, indeed, chocolate colored, furry in texture. At the base of it we could see a pure white something else. [It looked almost exactly like the photo above, though there was just one mass of it. When you blew on it, a smoky cloud of spores emanated from it.]

Nick peeled off a little chunk of it, and pulled out his ever-ready magnifying glass for a closer look. Though it was unknown to the rest of us, Nick recognized it at once. "It's a Chocolate Tube Slime Mold," he announced happily, his disappointment at finding no new moths that evening now gone.

And that was our new Kingdom. For those of you who think, as I long did, that there are only three Kingdoms in our classification system --- Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral, you'll have to revise your next game of Twenty Questions. For the Slime Mold is in none of those Kingdoms. It has one of its own, called Protista. Since you're reading this on a computer I can guiltlessly say, look it up!

In an e-mail to another Central Park night explorer, Brad Klein, I noted our discovery of a slime mold that day. Brad, a bird, bat, and dragonfly enthusiast, wrote back:

"Marie, don't you think you're slumming a bit down there on the evolutionary tree? I mean there's no shame at gazing at a plant from time to time, but a slime mold's not even in one of the respectable Kingdoms!"

You've heard of sexists and ageists, right? Could we call Brad a Protistist?