Steve Young meeting the challenge of photographing microscopic slime moulds on the Coffs Coast

Steve Young in the field. Photo: Norelle Last

 

IF you’ve ever wondered where the inspiration for the sci-fi movie The Blob came from, it’s closer to home than you might think.

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Local retired commercial photographer Steve Young was always fascinated by fungi until he came across something even more interesting.

“I found some tiny red dots on a log in the forest and they turned out to be myxomycetes, fungal-like organisms that can clump into a single amoeba-like form, which starts pulsing and then creeps around searching for food,” Steve said.

“The common name is ‘slime mould’, which may not sound appealing, but the fruiting bodies are quite beautiful, standing around two to three millimetres tall.

“I began photographing and recording my finds on citizen science databases, discovering very rare species in our local forests, including an iridescent one,” he said.

Though many of us may not have heard of myxomycetes, which are even thought by experts to exhibit intelligent behaviours, the ‘Slime Mold Identification & Appreciation’ Facebook group has 19,000 members worldwide.

With normal activities curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve turned to buying empty fish tanks to create ‘slimariums’, a term he coined and that is now used around the world by enthusiasts who study the myxomycetes.

“A science teacher in Melbourne has one in a slimarium and named it ‘Steve,’” he said.

“She contacted me the other day to say Steve had gotten away, but luckily she found it again.”

Steve enjoys the unique challenges of developing super macro techniques to photograph something so small.

“It’s rewarding to come up with a process that’s never been done before and which reveals things people wouldn’t normally see,” he said.

“I’m now starting to see another group which lives on the myxo, at about 100th of a millimetre in size.”

It seems that slime moulds aren’t all that hard to find once you know what to look for.

“They’re everywhere,” Steve said.

“Recently I found three varieties on my basil plant.”

 

By Monika KOZLOVSKIS

 

Elaeomyxa cerifera. Photo: Steve Young

 

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