I was intrigued by this recent find in my garden which looked quite strange and had some members of the household thoroughly disgusted! After some enquiries, I learned that it is Mucilago crustacea or more commonly known as ‘Dog sick fungus’. While it does resemble something a sick puppy might deposit on your lawn, it is not actually a fungus but a slime mould.
Slime moulds are members of the Kingdom Protista so they are not classed as animals, plants or fungi. They are primitive single celled organisms – like Amoebae, that reproduce by spores. They are capable of limited movement and they feed on bacteria in the ground and as such, they may even be beneficial for plants by consuming harmful bacteria and pathogens.
The slime moulds spend most of their life cycle as microscopic, single celled organisms in the soil. However, when conditions are right, they clump together and move above ground to form a larger organism called a plasmodium which varies in appearance from species to species. Most species of slime mould produce very small plasmodia measuring just a few mm. Mucilago as pictured above, is one of the larger species. A similar, bright yellow species known as ‘Scrambled egg fungus’ is found more in wooded habitats. After a few days, the plasmodium becomes dry and flaky and breaks up to release black spores which germinate it the soil to produce the next generation of slime moulds.
Keep an eye out for this fascinating life form in gardens and woods in August and September!