Last week, the internet got itself in a tizzy over a mysterious “blob” that a Paris zoo put on display. It has 720 sexes! It has no brain, yet it can learn! It doesn’t have eyes or a mouth, but it can detect food and wolf it down!
It was in fact the slime mold Physarum polycephalum, a common, well-studied species. But the organism is even more fascinating than the zoo let on, because what we don’t know about the slime mold is just as interesting as what we do.
For as well as biologists have populated the tree of life with species, they’re still not quite sure where the slime mold fits in—it’s not a plant or animal or fungus, but something different. It’s one enormous cell with many nuclei, but scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how all the bits are communicating to move around. And does it actually have 720 sexes? Well, that’s a really tough question, because Physarum polycephalum doesn’t get busy like us humans.
To learn more, we sat down with slime mold aficionado Anne Pringle of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Check out the video above to learn everything you’ll ever need to know about the strangest blob on Earth.