For scientists and artists alike, life is all about answering the biggest “what ifs” we can imagine. What if a giant gorilla wreaked havoc on the city? What if mysterious lights in the sky are actually from another galaxy? What if the phone rings and it’s someone panicking about the brightly-colored goo climbing up their oak tree? That’s right: climbing slime.
It sounds far fetched — a never-before-seen slime, right there in someone’s residential yard? — but it wasn’t science fiction. Scientists heard just that from a distressed homeowner in 1973…and the words “adorable” and “non-threatening” weren’t exactly how she described it. What the scientists found in that yard sparked countless questions, all with very few answers…
On a spring day in 1973, Marie Harris was gardening in her backyard when she saw something odd. She was used to seeing weird-lookings things in her garden — slimy bugs, discolored weeds, and other natural phenomena — but this didn’t seem natural at all.
Then again, it didn’t seem unnatural, either. With its neon-yellow coloring and slow-moving tendencies, it seemed like something a kid would cook up with his chemistry kit. To Marie, however, it had a striking resemblance to something far more sinister.
While 1958’s The Blob may have been a campy, over-the-top popcorn flick about a killer alien blob, it was the first thing Marie thought of when she came across the mysterious substance in her yard. She knew it was just a movie…but what if it wasn’t?
She got scientists involved, and they were quick to write it off as a “common lower fungus”…but then why did it look so menacing? Its features — or lack thereof — are certainly strange. In fact, this “common lower fungus” is actually made up of intimidating contradictions.
It doesn’t have a mouth, but it can eat and digest food. It doesn’t have eyes, but it moves from place to place with intention. It can heal itself without having any obvious immune or nervous systems, and in 2019, scientists discovered its most mind-bending feature of all.
They introduced the blob to a noxious substance to see how it would react. They figured it would either shrivel up or move away from the deadly substance as fast as it could, but what they didn’t count on was an all-out fight for survival.
Somehow, despite the blob not having a brain, it’s able to learn from its mistakes…and strategize for future potentially deadly encounters. With this realization, scientists were quick to change their minds: It isn’t an animal, a plant, or, they now know, a fungus…
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So what is it? Scientists are pretty sure the blob didn’t accidentally crash-land from another planet, so it has to have some sort of naturalistic origin. The only way to solve the mystery of the blob? To test its strength and intelligence.
Paris Zoological Park
They dropped the blob into a complex labyrinth, just to see what would happen. No way it would navigate the complicated twists and turns — after all, it doesn’t even have limbs! But as the substance started to move, the scientists knew they were seeing something truly unique.
It not only moved through the labyrinth with ease, but it somehow deduced the quickest way through. The scientists were floored: The blob, then, doesn’t just have a basic understanding of its surroundings. It can problem-solve, and even more impressively, it can remember.
Each time they put the blob in the maze, it remembered the correct way through. It was able to anticipate sudden changes in its environment: A blockage in the maze? The blob went around it. Deadly substance in its way? The blob strategized its way to survival…
It sounds crazy, but in many fundamental ways, the blob isn’t too different from most mammals. It can sense danger and react accordingly. It can learn from its past mistakes and devise new ways to get food. It even has some extremely human-like quirks.
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For one, scientists somehow figured out that the blob’s favorite food is oatmeal. It has 720 sexes (so far), moves at a speed of 1.6 inches per hour, and grows over time. Of course, it’s the blob’s less human features that make it seem otherworldly.
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The blob can fuse with other members of its own species, and when this happens, each species learns what the other has experienced. They share their collective experiences and become even more intelligent — and, for all scientists know, they become more powerful.
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But like every powerful being, the blob has its enemies. This may be hard to believe: What could a substance that simply regenerates after being dissected possibly be afraid of? According to Paris’ Zoological Park, the blob’s greatest enemies actually make a lot of sense.
Light and dryness are the biggest threats to the blob, as the blob loves dark and damp environments. Unlike most humans, the blob “thrives…when humidity levels reach 80% to 100%.” If this nearly-indestructible being sounds threatening to you, then we have some bad news.
According to Science Alert, this particular species of “blob” — Physarum polycephalum — is actually just one of a whopping 900 variants of slime molds. Unlike the baffled scientists back in the ‘70s — or in the 1958 horror movie — scientists today finally have a theory as to what this creature is.
Despite only becoming a well-known substance in the 1970s, scientists believe that the blob has been squelching up tree bark for around one billion years. All this time, it’s been growing and thriving in our very own backyards…and now, it may finally have a place in the animal kingdom.
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Well, the Protista kingdom, actually. It’s similar to that of single-celled organisms like amoeba, but as we’ve seen, it can become way more powerful fairly quickly. When the slime molds start to bond together, it can cover several square feet…and begin its search for sustenance.
Still, much of what makes the blob so special remains a mystery. The fact that the blob can move, eat, digest, problem-solve, and share knowledge without a brain is one of nature’s most fascinating puzzles…and it’s changing the way scientists approach biology all together.
If there’s any constant in nature, it’s that something bizarre will come along to surprise even the most accomplished of scientists, and they almost always come from the most unlikely of places: From one’s own backyard, and sometimes from the ocean…
As soon as the Dickinson family — comprised of Adam, Eve, and their two kids — stepped on to Auckland, New Zealand’s Pakiri Beach, they saw this purple blob in the sand. They had no idea what it was — or what it was capable of.
Adam and Eve Dickinson via News Hub
So naturally, the two kids, Sofia and Lucas, sprinted over to it with all the reckless abandon of children on a mission to satisfy their curiosities about something wildly unsafe and potentially dangerous.
Adam and Eve Dickinson via Newshub
This concerned Adam and Eve, who didn’t wish to see their children succumb to a purple, potentially poisonous beach blob, so they, too, approached the mysterious thing in the sand.
Eve Dickinson / Facebook
“My initial thought was ‘don’t let my kids touch it,'” Adam told the news sometime after the ordeal. With the family of four now all gathered around the mystery substance, they all echoed the same question: what the heck was it?
The Dickinson’s launched an informal investigation. The first thing they noticed? The purple blob was pulsating. Moving. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it was alive.
“It almost looked like a load of muscles contracting,” Adam recalled. “It was pretty incredible and really hard to describe.” Meanwhile, the kids were reminded of something oddly specific when they looked at the blob.
Lucas told his mom the creature looked like a volcano; it had, after all, sloping sides and what looked like a crater of bubbling purple lava. This was obviously no volcano, so the Dickinsons investigated further.
Despite their initial concerns about the pulsating creature, the family — to our benefit — proceeded to place check after check on the list of things you should not do to foreign, potentially dangerous things…
Eve Dickinson / Facebook
For instance, Lucas and Sofia blew on the thing. To the kids’ delights, the more they blew on the creature, the more it moved, confirming, yep, it was very much alive and was very much aware of outside stimuli.
With this understanding, the Dickinsons grabbed a stick and prodded the blob. Sure enough, Eve recalled the creature moved even more when the stick prodded its meat.
While the kids poked, prodded, and blew on the creature, Adam and Eve noted something peculiar about the beach: tons of jellyfish were scattered across the shore. This answered the question, right?
2cycle2gether / flickr
See, for a moment, they thought their mystery creature was just a jellyfish washed ashore. But still, their pulsating friend looked nothing like the other jellyfish. Maybe their guy was just upside down or something?
So with their stick, the Dickinsons flipped over some of the other jellyfish that’d washed up on the shore, hoping this would prove their creature was just a really big, really upside-down jellyfish.
But even upside-down, the landlocked jellyfish still looked nothing like the captivating creature that had so entranced the family. They were back to square one, so, eventually, the marine experts chimed in with answers.
A member of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Diana Macpherson, knew almost instantly what this “common” creature was.
The purple, pulsating blob that had entranced Adam, Eve, Sofia, and Lucas on the jellyfish-laden shores of Pakiri Beach was, according to Diana, the largest species of jellyfish found in New Zealand waters: the lion’s mane jellyfish!
These huge jellyfish can grow as big as seven feet wide with tentacles a hundred feet long. Those long tentacles give it a sort of lion’s mane — hence the creature’s name.
As it turned out, Adam was right to want to keep his kids away initially. While these jellyfish aren’t deadly, their tentacles carry toxins that can deliver some serious welts to those unfortunate enough to get caught in the “mane.”
This particular jellyfish was also a bit of an oddity. Normally, lion’s manes wash up on shore in the summer or spring, when plankton start blooming. This one washed up in autumn.
Whatever the odds of a lion’s mane washing up in September, the Dickinsons were delighted with the experience. “It was incredible,” Adam recalled. However, this unusual lion’s mane is far from the strangest thing to be washed ashore…
Sneakers: On the Dutch island of Terschelling, citizens were startled early one morning when they discovered thousands of running shoes covering the sand. Apparently, a cargo ship lost one of its containers during a violent storm, turning the beach into an outdoor Foot Locker.
Piano: One afternoon, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, someone came across a piano. Although the body was perfectly intact, it no longer played. No one ever found out who it belonged to.
Rubber ducks: Back in 1992, a massive shipping crate full of hundreds of thousands of rubber ducks fell overboard in the middle of the ocean, and still to this day, massive amounts of these bath-time toys still occasionally wash up on the shores of various countries.
Giant LEGOs: Not much is known about the Dutch painter and sculptor who calls himself Ego Leonard other than he works with large-scale fiberglass LEGO art. These oversized toys occasionally find themselves on shores all over the world.
Perfectly formed snowballs: A Siberian beach was found blanketed in perfectly formed snowballs in 2016. This was due to an extremely rare phenomena causing pieces of ice to roll up and then become smoothly polished by the elements. Did someone say epic snowball fight?
Giant eyeball: In 2012, someone came across a giant eyeball while walking along the shore in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. People naturally wanted to believe it came from some kind of undiscovered sea monster, but scientists determined it belonged to a massive swordfish.
E.T.: One afternoon, a person thought they saw a lifeless body floating in the shallow ocean water. Upon further inspection, it was actually a life-sized doll of E.T.! Talk about discovering something alien!
Bananas: In 2007, six enormous crates of bananas fell overboard from a ship traveling to Cuba. Almost all of them somehow made the long journey to the shores of Terschelling in the Netherlands. Yep, that’s right. The same place that was the recipient of those thousands of pairs of running shoes. Weird…
Inscribed rocks: While people were taking a stroll along a beach in Oakville, Ontario, they came across a stack of rocks with inspirational and personal messages inscribed on them. Did whoever wrote them ever find their soulmate?
Mechanical hand: Someone dropped a mechanical prosthetic hand into the water near Staten Island, New York, and it quickly washed ashore. Who did it belong to? Apparently, one very clumsy robot.
SpaceX debris: On the beach of Elbow Bay in the Bahamas, people were in shock when they found massive chunks of metal lying in the shallow waters. Where did they come from? They were pieces of one of SpaceX Falcon 9’s crashed rockets.
Intact shipwreck: This ship, called Navagio, is a tourist attraction in Greece. It was built in 1937 and was used to smuggle cigarettes. After it was destroyed in a massive storm while trying to flee the Greek Navy in the 1980s, it eventually washed ashore on a beach in Navagio Bay.
Strange gelatinous blobs: Throughout 2015, about a billion of these weird gelatinous blobs of jelly called velella washed up on west coast shores of the United States. As dramatic and bizarre looking as the incident was, marine biologists actually said it happens roughly once every three to six years.
Doritos: On the beaches of North Carolina one morning, a massive shipping container full of Doritos washed ashore. Thousands of bags of the popular snack were strewn all over the sand, much to the delight of the hungry beachgoers.
Flyswatters: In 2012, off the coast of Alaska, a cargo ship lost several crates of flyswatter with college sports teams’ insignia printed on them. Insects beware, Notre Dame is coming for you…
Harley-Davidson motorcycle: After a devastating tsunami hit Japan in 2011, one man’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle was swept out to sea. Incredibly, it was found 5,000 miles away on a beach in British Columbia!
Dead birds: Roughly 6,000 deceased waterfowl washed up on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. Scientists believed they all consumed botulism-laced fish, and although die-offs of large numbers of birds isn’t extremely unusual, the number of waterfowl had scientists quite startled.
Drugs: In 2013, off the coast of Japan, someone found six backpacks stuffed with packages of cocaine. The total weight of the narcotics was 78 kilograms, and police estimated the find to be worth $70 million!
Sea mine: When one family came upon this mystery object at the beach, they initially thought it was some kind of buoy that made its way onto the land. In reality, however, it was actually a World War II-era mine!
Giant pipes: Early one morning in August 2017, beach walkers in Norfolk, England, were greeted with massive sections of metal pipes. Some of them were as long as 1,500 feet and eight feet in diameter! They had reportedly broken off a Norwegian tug boat after it collided with an Icelandic container ship on its way to Algeria.