Ew, what is that? Photographer captures gross, beautiful slime moulds around Yellowknife


What the heck are those things?

They look kind of gross, and yet, so beautiful.

These magical, colourful creatures are known as slime moulds — single-celled organisms that like to hide in the woods. 

“Looking for slime moulds is exciting,” said Jeff Hollett in a Facebook chat with CBC.

He’s the photographer who captured these stunning close-ups around Yellowknife.  

Hollett says slime mould is a relatively common species around Yellowknife. This particular specimen found at Boundary Creek is called the Arcyria Stipata. ‘[It] was particularly cool in a gross ground beef-looking kind of way,’ he said. (Submitted by Jeff Hollett)

“They’re hard to find at first because they’re so tiny,” he said.

Hollett took a course on slime moulds in university and that’s when he fell in love with them. He said he has taken over 10,000 pictures of slime moulds in the N.W.T.

‘This one has several common names including the toothpaste slime mould … the sporangia are filled with a pink-orange substance that has the consistency of toothpaste,’ said Hollett about the Lycogala epidendrum. (Submitted by Jeff Hollett)

Despite being called slime moulds, Hollett said they aren’t moulds at all. They aren’t mushrooms or fungi either.

“They are single-celled organisms, and the biggest cells found in nature,” he said.

Hollett also said they are “blob-like” and can travel over land.

“Despite being primitive, single-celled organisms, slime moulds exhibit intelligence.”

‘When fruiting, this species takes on a distinctive pretzel-like shape. It’s mature-phase colour is brown, but during the fruiting process, it will have transitional colours ranging from orange to red to black,’ said Hollett about the Willkommlangea reticulata. (Submitted by Jeff Hollett)

They also exhibit stunning colours, shapes and sizes.

But don’t get too close.

“When they’re ‘mature’ they are typically dry and brittle. The lightest amount of pressure and they’re crushed into a dust of spores,” he said.

Hollett now lives in St. John’s but led a number of excursions in the woods of Yellowknife when he lived there.

Jeff Hollett has led excursions of up to 15 people looking for slime moulds. (Submitted by Jeff Hollett)

Sometimes there would be as many as 15 people following him into the woods on a mission to find the little slime moulds.

“Around Yellowknife slime moulds fruit in the summer, mainly from July to mid-September with the peak being about now.”

He said many people are fascinated when they see “these bizarre but beautiful creatures.”

“Before they begin to fruit, they’re slimy [with] the consistency of yogurt,” he said.

‘This species produces sporangia made up of tiny round balls on long, thin stalks,’ said Hollett about the Comatrichia nigra. (Submitted by Jeff Hollett)

Hollett said slime moulds can be found all over the world, even in Antarctica.

“They’re really common, but being very small and often living in inconspicuous places like the underside of dead logs, they go unnoticed by most people.”

‘The mature colour is brown but this one has a cool bright orange colour for part of the fruiting process,’ Hollett said about this Trichia species. (Submitted by Jeff Hollett)

But there’s no doubt, they can’t hide from Hollett.

He even has a nice collection of physical specimens that he hopes will end up in a natural history museum or herbarium.

“Basically, I’m a pretty big nature nerd,” he said.

Read more at CBC.ca