Slime Puff Planet

During the recent prolonged rains at Camp Salmen, repulsive, dark green slime puffs sprouted on parts of the wet ground. One might have thought they were some kind of algae but it turns out they have an unusual name — Nostoc communes — and are actually a variety of cyanobacteria closely related to the oldest forms of life on Earth. 

 

 

If you look for this organism during drier times at the park, which is most of the year, it will appear as black scabs on bare ground or is shriveled up and hidden in the thatch. It will plump up and return to its shiny, old green, slimy self during another humid wet spell. 

Evidence indicates that cyanobacteria have been on Earth for at least half of the planet’s 4.5 billion years. Fossilized layers of this stuff are found in rocks from this time — remnants of the famous primordial ooze you might think. For the longest time these organisms were pretty much all that was happening in the way of life on the planet, way before most all the animals and plants that followed. It is a fearsomely rugged organism, able to endure searing U.V. light, extremes of temperatures and humidity and still lives in just about any environment found on the face of the Earth. They have survived late meteor bombardments, the freezing of the planet, seven major extinction events, the appearance of the fishes and the cows and all the episodes of Laverne and Shirley. 

Cyanobacteria are thought to have been largely responsible for creating and sustaining the oxygen we breathe by using chlorophyll and photosynthesis to turn sunlight into their sustenance. Oxygen and slime are their major byproducts. Back in the day, when the Earth was trying to decide which physicochemical routes it would take, the oxygen that cyanobacteria produced burned non-oxygen using life forms that were trying to take hold and caused the so-called Great Oxygen Catastrophe and setting up life on this planet for the way it is now. This was one of Earth’s first and most significant extinction events but since we humans love oxygen, we don’t care, do we? In fact we should rejoice in this and acknowledge the little puffs when we see them again. 

Whilst some may have their doubts about the evolution of the planet and the life it harbors, and may question whether people somehow arose from slime puffs, when it comes to accounting for some people’s taste and behaviors there might be a connection in there somewhere. 

Who knew there was so much deep history and fascinatingly weird stuff going on in the grass at Camp Salmen?

 

Dried Nostoc communes (slime puffs) along an asphalt road, waiting for rejeuvination.

Last modified on Saturday, 17 October 2015 20:29

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