I never thought I’d see a living ball of snot in my lifetime.
What kinds of things do you typically expect to see when you visit a zoo? Animals, furry and scaly? Maybe some tropical plants? A sun-burnt tourist in sandals and a tank top? Well, the Paris Zoological Park has obtained something that falls into none of those categories: a living yellow blob.
Physarum polycephalum, or simply slime mold, if you prefer, is a single-celled organism in a class all its own. It is neither plant nor animal, and it’s not a fungus either, if you were wondering. It’s simply slime, and it’s existed all over the world for quite some time. They typically hang out on the undersides of plant matter like leaves and logs where they hunt micro-organisms. When it’s hunting, the slime mold branches out in a network of veins, stalking prey with a surprising efficiency. Despite what that may imply, though, the mold is completely brainless; it’s a creature of pure mechanical instinct.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t hunger for human flesh. Actually, the slime mold’s favorite snack is oatmeal. No clue why, it’s just really into those oats. When scientists laid out a trail of oatmeal blobs in the shape of Tokyo and its surrounding towns, the slime mold twisted itself into a network of veins to get at them that bore a startling resemblance to the Tokyo rail system. Despite not having a brain, the slime mold seems to possess an uncanny spatial memory and problem-solving skills. It can even trace its own slime trail back to previous hunting grounds when it’s looking for food.
The slime mold is still on display at the Paris Zoological Park. Maybe someday they’ll let guests feed it oatmeal.