#59: Alison Pollack – Finding and Photographing Slime Molds

#59: Alison Pollack – Finding and Photographing Slime Molds Nature's Archive

Summary

Alison Pollack in the field. Photo courtesy Bruce Welkovich, via Alison Pollack.

Slime molds (Myxomycetes) are beautiful, weird, and amazing organisms. Often mistaken for fungi, they are actually single celled, yet they grow and efficiently move in search of food, can start and stop their life cycle based on environmental conditions, and even change colors several times during their brief life cycle. They can be beautifully colored, frequently iridescent, and can be ornately shaped. And better still, they can be found in much of the world – maybe even in your yard.

My guest today, Alison Pollack, is a renowned slime mold photographer and unabashed enthusiast of slime molds and their habitats. If you follow nature photographers on Instagram, perhaps you count yourself as one of her nearly 50,000 followers.

Today, Alison tells us what exactly a slime mold is – and no, it is not a mold or fungi. She describes a typical lifecycle, where they grow, and how to find them.

Alison then tells us about her astonishing macro photography of slime molds – both in the field and in her home studio. She walks through her process, technique, and equipment she uses to create her acclaimed photos. If you do nothing else, follow her on Instagram @marin_mushrooms, or check the photos below to get a hint of the beauty of the slime molds, and Alison’s artistic skill in capturing them.

You can also find Alison on Facebook at AlisonKPollack, and on iNaturalist at alison_pollack.

Alison’s favorite slime mold  (Lamproderma) photo to-date, and one of the Nikon Small World winners. Photo courtesy Alison Pollack

Did you have a question that I didn’t ask? Let me know at naturesarchivepodcast@gmail.com, and I’ll try to get an answer! I’ll add these Q&As to my monthly newsletter, so if you aren’t already subscribed, go here. I promise, no spam. I share the latest news from the world of Nature’s Archive, as well as pointers to new naturalist finds that have crossed my radar, like podcasts, books, websites, and more.

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People, Groups, Organizations

Alison’s interview with Allan Walls and Rik Littlefield

The Art of Mushroom Photography – the Madeline Island School of the Arts photography class Alison is co-teaching with Alan Rockefeller

Damon Tighe – was on Episode 36 talking Fungi

Nikon Small World 2022 Winners

Slime Mold Identification and Appreciation – Facebook Group

Books, Camera Equipment, and More

Note: links to books are affiliate links

All the Rain Promises and More by David Arora

Laowa ultra macro lens – there are models for each major camera manufacturer.

Les Myxomycètes

Myxomycetes – A Handbook of Slime Molds by Steven Stephenson

NOVA Slime Mold episode

Olympus Tough TG-6 – this seems to be the most recommended pocket camera by naturalists of many types

Raynox DCR-250

Where the Slime Mould Creeps by Sarah Lloyd

Music Credits

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Spellbound by Brian Holtz Music
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/9616-spellbound
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://brianholtzmusic.com

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

More Photos

Leocarpus Fragilis, which was mentioned numerous times in the episode. Photo courtesy Alison Pollack
Chocolate Tube slime mold, Stemonitis sp.

Transcript

Transcripts are automatically created, and are about 95% accurate. Apologies for any errors.

[00:00:00] Michael Hawk: Alison, I’m super excited to have you on the show today. Thank you for being here.

[00:00:04] Alison Pollack: I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for asking me,

[00:00:06] Michael Hawk: I don’t know how I could avoid asking. I’ve been a fan of your photography for quite a while. I’m not sure when I stumbled across you on Instagram originally, but I knew that someday I would have to have you on Nature’s archive, so the day has finally come.

[00:00:20] Alison Pollack: I’m happy to be here. Always happy to talk about slim molds and tiny fungi.

[00:00:25] Michael Hawk: Yeah. And , the tiny things in nature, I think are just always so enlightening, at least to me, because it’s an, it’s a world that goes unnoticed for so long and one day then you just have this mini epiphany, I guess, when you see what’s really happening at the small scale. Slime molds. Yes slime molds and tiny fun guy.

[00:00:46] That’s why we’re here today. Why don’t we, Actually with a little bit about you though, and how did you get interested in nature? I’m assuming that you didn’t just jump into sly molds with no nature background.

[00:00:59] Alison Pollack: I didn’t but I didn’t get into nature as a youngster. I grew up in a suburban town right outside New York City, very suburban, no woods, no nothing like that. My parents were New Yorkers and they took us to museums and things like that. Never nature. So I was literally never in a forest all the way through.

[00:01:18] Growing up in college, no, there was some woods on campus, but it didn’t really draw me. And it was only when I went to grad school and I lived near the university arboretum and had a boyfriend who was interested in nature and his parents had a cabin in the Northwoods of Minnesota.

[00:01:36] That was the first time I went into a forest and I just thought it was stunningly beautiful. As a runner at the time too, so I would, I lived very close. As I said to the arboretum, I would run a lot through the arboretum, and I think that’s when I really started noticing things.

[00:01:49] Although as a kid, I always loved trees. That was my favorite.

[00:01:52] Michael Hawk: As you were experiencing the forest in the upper Midwest, did you find yourself, being drawn towards fungi or any of these small creatures or how did that next step emerge?

[00:02:05] Alison Pollack: I don’t remember even noticing fungi when I was there. But I was a runner, so it’s hard to notice things like that when you’re running. I moved to California in 83, I think, and I also started hiking because there was so many beautiful places to hike here. I remember my first hike in a redwood forest, and I was just blown away by how beautiful it was and how beautiful the trees were.

[00:02:27] So I started hiking a lot. Eventually I got an injury in my back and it was pretty much, it was too hard to run anymore. So I was hiking a lot and certainly when I was hiking, I was noticing some of the mushrooms that were out there in the woods. I didn’t think very much of it. I always carried a camo with me cuz I was always, I’ve always loved taking pictures, just a simple point and shoot .

[00:02:48] And my friend that I did a lot of hiking with one day bought a mushroom book, all the rain promises and more, which is a fun little mushroom book. And I thought she was a little weird, a little nerdy to wanna study these mushrooms. But I thought, okay, I’ll go along with her. So I started looking at the mushrooms with her.

[00:03:07] I started taking a few pictures of them and I did that for several years. That was, it was much more about the hiking than taking pictures of the mushroom. But one day I was hiking with a friend and I saw. These little orange beans hanging from a branch, which turned out to be a slime mold called Leocarpus fragilis.

[00:03:27] But all I saw were these yellow bean, like tiny little things on a bit of redwood. And I had no idea what it was. I had an iPhone with me. I had graduated to an iPhone, so I took a picture with my iPhone and I went home and I did a reverse Google image search. And I quickly figured out that there were something called a slime mold.

[00:03:48] And I never heard of what a slime mold was. And I started reading and I kept reading and I kept reading and I kept reading. And 12 hours later, at four in the morning, I said, you have to go to sleep. And that was it. I was completely smitten from that moment.

[00:04:02] Michael Hawk: Wow. you fell into the rabbit hole, in, in one day’s time.

[00:04:07] Alison Pollack: fell into the rabbit hole. Yeah I just thought they were amazing. They were beautiful. I’d never heard of them. They were so tiny. Everything fascinated me.

[00:04:16] Michael Hawk: So the one that you saw, Leocarpus fragilis tell me a little bit more about what it looked like, what you said. It was hanging from a branch.

[00:04:23] Alison Pollack: It looks like hanging beans that like little beans on a thread. And Leocarpus fragilis, as is the case with virtually all slim molds goes through color changes as it matures . When you first see a slime mold in the forest and how it gets the name slime mold it’s a plasmodium, which is this sort of vein like network, like lace almost, that fans out across the log or leaves or whatever the substrate is looking for food.

[00:04:50] And at some point, it’s not really known exactly why, but it stops fanning out and , these fruiting bodies come arise up out of the plasmodium. So in the case of this particular one, the fruiting bodies when they first arise are this very bright yellow orange, which is one of my favorite colors.

[00:05:09] So I noticed them not just because the colors were really bright and vivid, but because what is this thing that I’ve never seen before? It changes color. To brown maroon, but the yellow stages when I think they’re pretties, they’re like dangling threads.

[00:05:22] Michael Hawk: And how far are they dangling millimeters.

[00:05:25] Alison Pollack: No. This is a relatively big one for slime, so the fruiting bodies are maybe two to three millimeters each, and the threads are a couple of millimeters in my photography work that’s big.

[00:05:38] Michael Hawk: And the reason I ask this is I’m wondering how you happened to notice this. You were just in that mode of looking closely, or was that bright color just so vibrant that you couldn’t miss

[00:05:48] Alison Pollack: I don’t think I was looking closely. I think it was just a bright color. So a lot of slime molds because they’re so small or really hard to see, and we can talk in a bit about how to find them, but they’re really tiny. So 1, 2, 3 millimeters is big for a slime mold, but some of them have big clusters. And so this in fact was a big cluster.

[00:06:06] So what I was looking at was maybe two to three centimeters of a bunch of these fruiting bodies. So it was much more noticeable and it was right at eye.

[00:06:14] Michael Hawk: Okay. So that helps give me a good visual of what it was you saw. And then you spent hours and hours that night researching slime molds. Were you able to find good resources online and approximately how long ago was this?

[00:06:27] Alison Pollack: I think this was about four years ago. I found some resources online, academic articles and things like that. There weren’t a lot of very good pictures. Slime also are now an extremely popular subject among macro photographers, but there were very few good pictures. But I was able to find some information and read a little bit

[00:06:47] Enough to certainly get me engaged and wanna go out to look for more.

[00:06:51] Michael Hawk: It seems like we’re still on the front end of a phenomenon. , in terms of interest in slime molds. There have been a lot of stories. There’s a radio show in fact called Science Friday.

[00:07:02] Alison Pollack: Oh, I love Science Friday.

[00:07:04] Michael Hawk: They profiled slime molds just a few months ago. May, maybe it was a year ago now. I, yes.

[00:07:09] Alison Pollack: I haven’t heard that one.

[00:07:11] Michael Hawk: Yeah. So I’m really fascinated by how this like so many people have gotten interested in this subject, and I think a lot of it is because of the type of work you do in raising the awareness of slime molds through the amazing photography. . Before we get there wanna ask you a little bit more about the life cycle of the slime mold.

[00:07:30] You started to describe it a little bit but can you walk. A sample case of a common slime mold and how it begins and the full cycle.

[00:07:39] Alison Pollack: Sure. Let’s walk through a general case rather than a sample case. The most common case so it’s a cycle of course, but at the beginning of the cycle, they’re spores. And so the spores are out there dispersed by the wind or animals or something, and they’re sitting in various places.

[00:07:54] And two compatible spores will meet and merge and form. So it’s the, so two single cell organisms, spores will meet and merge and form a single cell with multiple nuclei to nuclei. And then it keeps expanding and it’s still a single cell with multiple nuclei. And eventually it turns into plasmodium if the conditions are right, if the conditions are not right, it may try to form a plasmodium, but stop.

[00:08:24] And that’s something called a sclerotium, which is a dried out, kinda like a dried out plasmodium. And another interesting little tidbit about slim molds is it may be dried out because the conditions are not good, typically not enough moisture, and maybe it can be that way for a month or a year or even longer.

[00:08:40] And then when moisture comes back, It’ll start continuing on the life cycle once. As I said earlier, when we see the slim mold in the forest, the first time they’re visible our eyes is when you see the plasmodium itself. So as I said, it’s kinda like a lace that fans out spreads out along mostly logs, leaf letter, decomposing, plant matter, and it’s looking for food.

[00:09:03] So it feeds typically on algae and yeast bacteria, and sometimes on fungi as well. And at some point, and as far as I know, scientists don’t know exactly what the signal is, but at some point it stops the spreading out of plasmodium and it pushes its energy. Loose term into the fruiting bodies, which arise out of the plasmodium, and the plasmodium itself completely disappears.

[00:09:29] You can sometimes see little tracks on a log, but the plasmodium disappears and the fruiting bodies start to form. And as they’re forming, many of them are white at the very beginning of very bright white. Some of them have stalk. They don’t all have stalk, but as they’re forming and maturing, they’re changing colors.

[00:09:47] And some of them can change colors as many is five times in a very short period, which is just mind blowing to me. So they’re growing up they’re changing the colors, the fooding bodies are maturing, and eventually they will. Dry out. So the outer sort of the spore holding cyst sphere, if you will, of the slim mold.

[00:10:08] That’s not always spherical, but that shape of the slim mold is called the sporocyst. And the outer layer of that is called the peridium . And the peridium has these pretty patterns and calcium carbonate or lime patterns on top sometimes. So when the peridium dries out or dries up or disappears, that exposes the spores within.

[00:10:28] And then the spores are dispersed by the wind, by animals that eat them and then move through the forest or animals that, just brush up against them. And then the cycle starts a new, and that cycle from plasmodium till the spores are released can be a day, it can be a few days, it can be a couple of weeks, maybe a little longer, but it’s typically a few days.

[00:10:51] Or I have some favorite slime molds that I like to see the different stages of. So if I find one of these in the forest one day, I might go back two days later to see how it’s developed. And most of these are tiny, but there are a fair number of them that are big enough that even if you’re walking through the forest, you’ll see them.

[00:11:07] But most of them, the ones I favorite ones to photograph tend to be one, two, maybe three millimeters.

[00:11:14] Michael Hawk: You were talking about the reproductive cycle being. Largely driven by spores and propagation of spores. And for that reason, for a long time, slime molds were thought to be fungi.

[00:11:25] And as you said, it’s since been determined that they aren’t are they generally all these weird kind of single cell organisms, or do you have other more complicated cellular structures?

[00:11:35] Alison Pollack: So there’s cellular and a cellular slime molds. So the mix of my seeds are one class and then these other slime molds, which are called cellularly molds, which are Dios steroids or something like that, which are microscopic. So we’re mostly talking about the myxomycetes back to your originally classifying them as fungi.

[00:11:55] So yeah, because they reproduced with spores. They were way back when we just had plant an animal, only two kingdoms. They were classified as, actually, I don’t know at that point, maybe animals, because they were moving, they had motion, but then they had a fungi kingdom. So they were put in the fungi kingdom because they reproduced with spores. But they don’t have mycelia threads and they don’t have hfe. They behave more like a amoeba. So they were moved into protista kingdom with amoeba, which is where they are.

[00:12:24] Michael Hawk: And that movement, I know is an area of fascinating study as well for scientists and amateurs alike. As I understand it, there’s still a lot of unknowns as to how they decide to move and and how they move. And I say decide as if they’re making a conscious decision, but they don’t have any neural mechanism as I understand it.

[00:12:43] Is that about right or do you have more to add on the subject of slime mold?

[00:12:47] Alison Pollack: I’m not a scientist, I’m a photographer. I’m actually a mathematician by training, but I’m not a scientist. And so I don’t read the really heavy scientific literature on slim molds. I read some, there’s a lot in the popular press about slim molds thinking and having brains and solving mazes, and we don’t know exactly how that happens, but there’s the classic example.

[00:13:08] I think it was Japanese scientists who found this, but I could be wrong on that. If you put slime molds at the beginning of a maze and some oat flakes, which is one of their favorite foods, if you’re trying to grow slim molds in the maze somewhere, the slime mold will eventually, work its way through the maze and eventually it’ll find the food.

[00:13:26] If you then take it out of the maze and then just take a piece at the slim mold and put it at the very beginning, it will go directly to the old flakes. And there are other examples. And so people tend to, some people like to talk about slim molds having brains. I suspect it’s more chemicals systems, chemical tracks or something like that.

[00:13:47] I don’t really, myself like to get into the whole issue of slim molds, having brains and thinking Yeah. It’s just not where I go with it.

[00:13:54] Michael Hawk: I guess the fascinating part of it is they they’re able to somehow, this is where you don’t want to anthropomorphize, but yeah they learn from past experience and learn is not even the right word, but they’re able to

[00:14:05] Alison Pollack: Yeah.

[00:14:06] Michael Hawk: remember, again, not the correct word, . This is painting yourself into a corner.

[00:14:10] But that’s what makes it fascinating because they don’t they don’t have a brain the way we think of it. So it’s fun to look at. And it makes me want to ask you, have you grown any or experimented with any yourself or maybe done time lapses to see how they behave over time?

[00:14:25] Alison Pollack: Let me say one thing before we get into that. So the whole thing about Slim Molds, I think one of the big things that popularized slim molds in recent years is that the PBS Science Show Nova did a one hour special on slim molds, and they really focused on the, I don’t wanna say thinking, that sort of aspect of apparent learning of what looks like learning.

[00:14:45] And so that was probably what popularized it more than anything else, and also increased people’s awareness of slime molds. They didn’t at all focus on how pretty they are. They did talk a little bit about their life cycle, but if you wanna know more about this whole part of slime molds and solving mazes and things like that, it’s definitely worth watching the Nova episode.

[00:15:05] Michael Hawk: So your four-ish years into this journey of slime molds it’s obvious that you’ve just immersed. In the topic and in the photography. So what is it that keeps you coming back to them? What do you enjoy so much about them?

[00:15:19] Alison Pollack: I guess first of all they’re beauty. The, it’s just amazing to me that this organism that’s so tiny that is all over the forest as you’re walking through a wet forest and you, most people don’t notice them, even though that they exist. And yet there are these beautiful organisms on the forest floor or on, on deadlocks or whatever.

[00:15:35] They’re just gorgeous and people don’t know about them. They have a fascinating life cycle that they change. Colors is amazing to me. There’s different structures are amazing to me. I don’t know, it’s just everything about slim molds is amazing to me. When I started photographing them, I was just using a basic camera.

[00:15:53] bought a macro lens so that I could photo. Of them. They’re pretty small and I wanted to be able to see more of their details. So I started getting deeper and deeper into, higher magnification lenses. And we can talk about that later. But I’m still fascinated by them , the more that you magnify them, the more detail you see in the fruiting bodies.

[00:16:11] For example, a lot of them are iridescent, just magnificent, blue, purple, iridescent colors, golds and silvers. So there are certain gene that pri, you you can really see the iridescence. But there are others that you see the iridescence only when you use really high magnification. I don’t know that I’ll get tired of them, but it’s hard to imagine.

[00:16:30] Michael Hawk: The few that I’ve seen have just really been captivating and I, I don’t even have the eye for it, so I’m really looking forward to learning a little bit more from you about that. , it’s obvious you’ve also spent a lot of time learning about where they grow, why they grow, where they grow a number of other topics.

[00:16:45] So how much of this has really been your own discovery, your self discovery versus, finding a community learning from?

[00:16:52] Alison Pollack: I would say it’s much more finding the community learning. When I first started trying to learn about Slim Molds, the only person who was posting them on Instagram was a woman named Sarah Lloyd from Tasmania. And she’d been studying and is still studying slim molds on her property in northern Tasmania.

[00:17:08] And she was very helpful to me at the beginning provided a lot of information. And I’m still in communication with her and she’s still helpful. I should say before that, that I, when I started taking photos of the Slim Modes, I was just doing it for my own enjoyment. I didn’t post them anywhere.

[00:17:21] I wasn’t on social media. I thought that social media was gonna be a big time suck and I didn’t have time, and I just heard bad things about social media, so I didn’t go there. But my friend Katrina encouraged me. We joke about it. She kicked my butt for a year and a half, and I finally relented and said okay I’ll, I’ll start posting some photos.

[00:17:40] And what happened? Was really a delightful surprise. What was unexpected to me on Instagram was meeting people first. I would chat with them online and then many people I’ve actually met in person then ultimately I joined Facebook as well. And there is on Facebook, a fantastic group to learn more about slim mold’s called No Surprise Slimed Identification and Appreciation.

[00:18:04] And that’s also been a great source of information and seeing other people’s photos. And there are world experts on there who do a lot of identification and help people to understand how to identify one species from the next. I wanna give a particular shout out to a guy named Edvin or Eddie Johannesson, who’s from Norway.

[00:18:25] And Eddie and I have become friends over the last couple of years, and he is on there almost every day identifying slim molds for people explaining why it’s one species versus another. And he just gives freely of his wonderful expertise to so many people. So I haven’t met him yet. I do hope to meet him someday.

[00:18:43] And there are others, around the world that I chat with on a very regular basis. And I’d love to meet someday. And we all learn from each other a lot. And that’s just been an unexpected joy. And then meeting some of these people locally to meet some of the people that I’d originally chatted with on Instagram and then meet them in person was has really been a lot of fun.

[00:19:01] Michael Hawk: That’s one of the great things about so many of these nature communities is you find out that there are other and I don’t mean any offense by this, but other crazy people like yourself or like myself as the case might be,

[00:19:12] Alison Pollack: Nos, let’s call them nerds. Ok.

[00:19:14] Michael Hawk: nerds,

[00:19:14] Alison Pollack: Yeah. Nature nerd.

[00:19:16] Michael Hawk: nature nerd is a good one. I’ve stumbled across that Facebook group and have been following it for a while and trying to soak in the knowledge and unfortunately it’s been so dry here for the last, I don’t know how long that I haven’t had a ton of luck finding slime molds myself, but I’m really excited because it looks like our weather, you and I are in the same region of California.

[00:19:35] The weather has really changed for the better for slime molds here in the last few days. So I’m, I’m getting excited and I assume you are too.

[00:19:42] Alison Pollack: Oh my gosh. I’m getting incredibly excited because I haven’t seen a slammed in the Bay Area since. Except for one. There’s one that, that you can find all summer long. It’s not very interesting. It’s called Fuligo septica. It’s bright yellow when it’s young, and I don’t quite understand that when it grows without any apparent moisture.

[00:19:59] but except for that, no, I haven’t seen slime molds in the Bay area since probably April. So I am really happy that we have rain in the forecast next week and I expect to be going out the weekend a few days after that and finding slime molds.

[00:20:14] Michael Hawk: I think that we’re probably gonna jump around a little bit here. There’s never a linear pathway in these sorts of discussions. So talking about rain and moisture, those are important environmental conditions for slime molds. So can you tell me a little bit more about how you find them, where you find them, when you find them?

[00:20:31] What’s your.

[00:20:32] Alison Pollack: So like mushrooms, they need moisture and they typically start their life cycle in shady places. So wherever you see mushrooms, in most cases you’re likely to see slim molds as well. Mushrooms are just much more visible. So they like, like mushrooms, they like dark, shady parts.

[00:20:47] And they’re all around the world, let me say that. They’re in every continent, even Antarctica. The easiest place to find slime molds is in temperate forests. We have lots of those in the United States, or lots of those in, many other continents.

[00:20:59] You can find them in many other environments. But what I’m most familiar with is the temperate forest. And so in those forests, they are growing on decomposing logs, leaf litter, wet, everything has to be wet. So well decomposed logs, leaf litter sometimes live plants. My first one that I found, I mentioned Leo Carpus Frus. That one you can commonly find in huge clusters covering live plants in the woods. But the easiest way to find them is to look for well decomposed wood. And when I say well decomposed, it’s maybe a little soft to the touch. When it’s wet, it has to be quite wet and slim molds like dark, shady places.

[00:21:39] So it’s best to look underneath. We talk about flipping logs, picking up a log, looking at the underside. Please put it back when you’re done. So all the little critters that are living underneath can have that on the sides of logs. And then wet leaflet, litter. Decomposing leaves on the ground.

[00:21:55] If you very carefully pick up like the top layer of leaves, you’ll often find slime molds under there. So you’re. Gonna find them when you’re walking through the forest. I mean, You’ll see a few. There are some that are big enough, but if you really wanna find the smaller ones, you have to stop. I have knee pads, which are nice and helpful.

[00:22:13] I’m kneeling on the ground. I’m picking up bits of wood. My eyes aren’t the best. I know some youngsters out there that I’ve gone to the woods with that can see things with amazing clarity that are tiny. Tiny, I can’t do that. I carry a magnifying glass with me and a light actually an l e d lit magnifying glass, which you can find online for 10 bucks or something, which is terrifically useful for looking for little tiny things.

[00:22:37] I think a lot of people have problem finding them the first time because they don’t realize how small they are. But once you find your first one and you get how small they are, you’re likely to find a lot more.

[00:22:49] Michael Hawk: It sets that search image in your mind, so now you know what to look for once that first one has been found.

[00:22:54] Alison Pollack: Yeah.

[00:22:54] Michael Hawk: So if you find in the forest and say it’s rained in the last couple of days, and and you find some wet leaf litter. So you basically, you get down on your knees and you start sifting through the leaves very carefully looking at that leaflet, litter.

[00:23:08] And what’s your hit rate in a state like that? Like how often do you actually find one?

[00:23:11] Alison Pollack: Let me back up. I think it’s actually easier to find them on decomposing wood. That’s my experience. Maybe different in other areas, but where I live, it’s easiest. So I typically tend to look for bits of decomposing wood. And again, over time you get a sense of what decomposing wood looks like.

[00:23:27] What’s likely to have something, what’s my hit race? I’m getting a lot better just because I’m better at identifying the kinds of wood it grows on. And in leaf litter you’ll see maybe one or two. If you’re on the ground and you’re looking, you’ll see one or two. If I see a couple of fruiting bodies, then right around there, I very carefully pick up the leafs, like one little leaf at a time and peel it back.

[00:23:48] And then you’re likely to find more to say what the hit rate is. Really depends on how much rain there’s been, how much moisture there is in the forest. So it’s hard to distinguish between those.

[00:23:58] Michael Hawk: does a given species have a preference for the type of organic material that it grows?

[00:24:04] Alison Pollack: So I can think of that in a few cases. For example, the same Leo Carpus Frus that I referred to before, I tend to see that more on live plants. Than a dead wood. It grows on deadwood also, but much more on live plants in large clusters. That’s the one example that comes to my mind the most. , there’s one other area I forgot to mention, where slim molds can be easily found, and that’s in snow melt. So if you go up into the mountains in spring where there has been a snow pack and the snow pack is melting, if you look at the very edge of the snow pack, literally the place where the snow stops and the ground starts, that’s a really good place to look for what are called nivicolous slim molds, which are slim molds that grow only in snow melt areas.

[00:24:53] So there are. Roughly a thousand species of documented slim molds. And about a hundred of them, 90 or a hundred of them grow only in snow melt areas, and they’re actually not that hard to find . So where I live in California once our rain stops in March or April or February, on a bad year, I will head towards the mountains towards the snow melt and look for things in snow melt.

[00:25:16] So for example, if you go to snow melt and you see a stick that’s part way underneath the snow bank, and part way not, if you very carefully pull out that stick, there’s a good chance you’re gonna find some slam olds on there and you could look 10, 20, maybe 30 yards from the edge of the snow melt and still find things.

[00:25:34] Because the snow melt season is long, meaning you can go higher and higher in elevation and keep getting to snow melt even when we have no more rain after March. Or so I can go to the mountains for a month or two months and go up to higher and higher elevations and keep finding slim molds. So snow melt is a really good territory.

[00:25:53] Michael Hawk: That’s so fascinating, and I had no idea that the snow melt border would be such fertile ground for slime molds. Do you think, like you mentioned the example in mountains, so people that maybe live in other snowy parts of the world that are not mountainous can you also find slime molds at the snow melt border?

[00:26:11] Alison Pollack: My understanding is that the snow bank needs to be there for about two or three months. So you have to have a long enough winter and enough snow. So you’re building up a snow bank for a couple of months, which typically means somewhere up in the mountains. But for example, I think where I lived in Wisconsin, where it snowed a lot and then the snow would melt.

[00:26:30] That’s not, I don’t think that’s where you’re gonna find SNS in the spring.

[00:26:34] Michael Hawk: Okay. Because it melts too much, so you don’t have that constant snow pack for long.

[00:26:39] Alison Pollack: Yeah,

[00:26:40] Michael Hawk: interesting. So talking about snow pack, one of the questions I did have too was temperature and I’ve heard people say before, you have to have warm temperatures for slime mold, but that totally dispels the need for warm temperatures.

[00:26:52] Is there any other guidelines you have in terms of weather and temperature and conditions that might be favorable or ? Disfavor to slime molds.

[00:27:01] Alison Pollack: keep in mind again that I’m not a scientist here, so it’s more from observation and from what some of the reading that I’ve done. I don’t think temperature is anywhere near as important as moisture. So here in the Bay Area, I’ll find slim molds in the winter when it’s wet and cold for us, which might be forties, which is really cold for us.

[00:27:21] And I might also find them if it’s still raining in March or April when we have temperatures in the seventies, I might still be able to find them. The nivicolous ones, the snow melt ones are only gonna be in the colder temperatures where there’s been snow, but we also have tropical slime molds. So there are some species that are primarily in the tro, gorgeous species in the tropics, and it can be extremely hot.

[00:27:42] I went to Columbia one time and I went looking for slim molds in the jungle there, and there were some beautiful slime molds and it was horribly hot and very moist. But I think much more important is moisture rather than temperature.

[00:27:54] Michael Hawk: All right. And that then also ties back to you said Sarah Lloyd has been very helpful to you over the years. Do the species that are seen, say in Tasmania or Columbia, are they the same species you find here or is it totally distinct for the habitat?

[00:28:10] Alison Pollack: There are a lot of slime molds that are cosmopolitan, meaning you can find them all over the world. And there are some slime molds that, for whatever reason, only grow in certain parts of the world. So I mentioned, for example, that there are a number of slime molds that are just only in tropical regions.

[00:28:26] There are some slime molds that they have in Australia that we don’t have here, and vice versa. And that might be true certainly some others that are, say in Europe or Northern Europe that might be common there. But we don’t have here.

[00:28:38] Michael Hawk: And what about finding slime molds, say more in a suburban or urban habitat? I’ve heard some anecdotal cases of people finding them in their gardens at times. What about you? Like, Do you find them in those sorts of locations i.

[00:28:52] Alison Pollack: I do, you can definitely find them in gardens. So I have some friends who’ve two or three times given me some slim molds, two sets of friends from their gardens, but that’s because they’re water. And I don’t have much of a garden to speak of. I spend all my time indoors with my photography in, in the woods.

[00:29:06] I don’t have much of a garden. You can certainly find them in gardens. You can certainly find them in indoor environments. One of my favorite tips that I learned was from Damon ta, who was on your show quite a while ago, and Damon introduced me to the idea that slime molds will grow quite well under ivy.

[00:29:22] I think it’s English ivy, which has thick leaves, and so they seem to retain the moisture well underneath. And so in the winter I can, I’ve many times just taken walks in various neighborhoods and I see some ivy or just even a dark area in somebody’s garden, and I stick my hand in and pick up a leaf. And there’s some slime mold.

[00:29:41] So you can definitely find them in urban areas, not just in parks where there’s trees, but in people’s gardens. I was really quite surprised how often, I’m still surprised how often if I walk through a neighborhood and just poke under dark areas of people’s yards, I will find something.

[00:29:58] Michael Hawk: I’m just visualizing you poking under dark areas of people’s yards.

[00:30:02] Alison Pollack: I don’t go into their yards, so common example is people, next to the street. So I’m just picking up something that’s right at the edge, at the curb. Yeah. I am very respectful of people’s property.

[00:30:13] Michael Hawk: Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure. And I’m wondering too, cause you’re talking about decomposing wood and so many people use mulch as well. Do you find slime molds on mulch?

[00:30:21] Alison Pollack: You do, you definitely find mushrooms on mulch and you find slims on mulch this year because of big concerns about fire safety and fire spreading. A lot of trees were cut down in my neighborhood. Just a huge number sad. But I understand the reason. And so they dumped a huge pile of mulch right across the street from my house.

[00:30:41] And I’m quite curious to see what happens this winter. It may be too young. It needs to be probably more dry than it will be, or more aged I should say, than it will be. But I’m curious to see what’s gonna be growing in that mulch. I actually took some of it and put it in my little log garden in my yard.

[00:30:57] I have a log garden.

[00:30:58] Michael Hawk: for the sole purpose of growing slime bolts

[00:31:01] Alison Pollack: Yes.

[00:31:02] Michael Hawk: that gives you a nice little captive environment. When you find things growing in your log garden, do you post them online or do you have a, an album of backyard fines or anything like that?

[00:31:12] Alison Pollack: I do grow them in my backyard, but the time that they’re growing in my backyard when it’s raining, they’re also growing in the woods. And I’m likely to find different things other than the same logs in my yard. So I will look there. I don’t water them. That would be a great way to extend the season. But we’re in a drought, so I don’t feel good about watering the logs.

[00:31:32] If I did, I would certainly see a lot more. I have found things in my yard. Another friend came over one time and one of one of these people was magnifying lenses for eyes. Two months after the rain stopped in the dry sea and she was poking around dry leaflet, litter in my yard and found almost a dozen species in one afternoon, including one extremely, I don’t wanna say rare, but rarely reported one.

[00:31:58] So I posted that on iNat, but I obs you could obscure the location on iNat. So for the, some of the ones, most of the ones in my yard, I obscure. I don’t want people coming around and poking in my.

[00:32:09] Michael Hawk: . So you’re inspiring me to look in my yard for slime molds. I haven’t really tried that for some reason. I don’t know why I guess I’ve had a blindness towards slime molds in the yard. So I’m gonna do that, especially with the rainy weather.

[00:32:20] But I do, I wanna make sure before we run out of time, that we give adequate time to your photography, because that’s the thing that really attracted me to this topic in the first place. And to you in particular. Wow. Where to begin with this? You do so much. You started with an iPhone, so why don’t we start there?

[00:32:37] You took some pictures with an iPhone and what was your next step into the world of slime mold photography.

[00:32:42] Alison Pollack: Yeah, I took a picture with the iPhone. That was the afternoon when I spent 12 hours sitting at the computer. And as I said, I was immediately smitten. I was interested in macro photography and I think I probably had the macro lens before then, but it was sitting in a corner. And I, at that time, I was doing landscape photography and was really, I thought, really passionate about landscape photography.

[00:33:04] No not compared to how passionate I am about slim molds these days. So I immediately switched to macro photography and slim molds in particular. So I started with a can 60 camera and a excellent canon hundred millimeter macro lens, and started looking around in the forest for slime olds. And over time I got a better camera.

[00:33:24] Then I wanted to be able to photograph them more closely. So if you take a standard macro lens setup and add something called extension tubes, you can increase the magnification that way. And there’s another little piece of gear that I wanna encourage people to get.

[00:33:42] If you’re at all interested in looking even more closely than a macro lens will let you go. And that is something called a reox, R A Y N O x. Maybe we can put a link in the show notes. And it’s about $90 for basically a diopter that you attach to the end of your lens. And it will increase the magnification ratio by almost a factor of two and a half.

[00:34:02] And for $90 the quality is amazing. So you can get much closer with this. There are other ways to do macro photography that don’t cost a lot of money, and there are plenty of websites that talk about how to do that. You can also photograph slime molds with one of these macro clip on lenses with your phone.

[00:34:19] No, that’s not gonna get you in highly artistic sharp photo. But you will be able to photograph slim molds with them. And I also just wanna add that if you don’t want to go whole hog and get a, a mirrorless camera or an expensive DSLR that Olympus makes a series of cameras called Olympus Tough.

[00:34:37] The latest one is a TG six. This is what Damon uses for most of his photos. And it is amazing what you can do. Ah, you have one? Yes. Damon in particular is just, it’s astonishing to me what he does with that camera, but it is a very good camera. It does focus stacking, which we should probably talk about.

[00:34:56] So you can really photograph very well photographs of tiny things. If you’re gonna get that camera, be sure to get the little ring light that comes with the camera. You need that to photograph things that closely. Beyond an iPhone and a macro lens. I would say that’s the next step, is that the little Olympus TG camera, which can do phenomenal photographs.

[00:35:14] So then I, anyway, so I was photographing in the field and then I was doing well, let’s talk about focus stacking, because that explains why I bought my next camera. So the, when you’re photographing very small things, the more you magnify them, the less the depth of field is. And depth of field is a term for how much of what you’re looking at is in sharp focus as you’re taking a picture.

[00:35:38] So the higher the magnification goes, the less the depth of field is. So if you were to take a picture of a very small , slime mold, you would only see one thin slice and focus, and everything would be out of focus. So focus stacking is a technique where you move the camera in tiny little increments.

[00:35:56] So you’re changing the focal length and you take a series of photos where you change the focal length a tiny bit at a time. And then there’s computer software. It can be done in Photoshop, but it’s not that good. But there’s specialized computer software that then takes that stack as it’s called, of photographs each with a slightly different focal length and combines the most in focus portions of each photo into a composite image, which still as, even though I’ve done this hundreds, probably thousands of times, still seems like magic to me.

[00:36:29] So I was doing focus stacking in the field by manually rotating the focus knob on my camera a tiny bit at a time, which was a very painstaking and time consuming process. And I heard at some point about these new mirrorless cameras that were coming. That had focus, not focus stacking, but focus bracketing, meaning it takes the series of photos you set up the start and the increment and it does it automatically.

[00:36:58] And I thought, wow, that would be a huge time saver and allow me to photograph a lot more slim molds. So I bought one of those cameras, I bought an Olympus EM one, mark three. There are a number of Olympus cameras that do that. And in fact, now almost all of the, I used to say all of the camera manufacturers except Sony have mirrorless cameras with focus bracketing built in.

[00:37:20] But Sony just released two days ago. They’re very expensive mirrorless camera with focus bracketing. I think it has limitations. I would recommend Olympus or one of the others for now. So that’s what I’m using in the field.

[00:37:34] Michael Hawk: When I hear focus stacking, I’ve played around a little bit without myself, and one of the challenges I have is moving the camera while you’re taking your bracketed photos. So if you move the camera, then that can make it very difficult to use the software to actually create your stack. So I’m curious what do you do?

[00:37:54] Do you use a tripod or some other method to keep the camera still?

[00:37:58] Alison Pollack: Yeah, I absolutely use a tripod . There are people who can do this without a tripod. Damon doesn’t use a tripod. He has very steady hands. If you’re using, say, the Olympus, you just wanna brace it against something. Put your arms against your body where you’re holding the camera. Lean against a log.

[00:38:13] Do something to brace yourself so that you’re not moving the camera. You can move the camera a little bit and the focus stacking software will still be able to adjust for that within limits. But for the kind of work I do, a tripod is an absolute must.

[00:38:28] Michael Hawk: And then going along with that lighting. So you mentioned at the beginning that some of the slime molds are iridescent, and then also you’re inherently in a dark wet place, so there’s not a lot of natural light. How do you handle lighting to really showcase the iridescence of your subject? Otherwise your shutter speed is gonna be so slow in a dark forest.

[00:38:48] Alison Pollack: Yeah, so I really prefer natural light. I don’t like to use artificial light, and the vast majority of my field photos do not have any artificial lighting on them. So I do one of two things. Either I photograph it in place and I have a slow shutter speed. I’ll, I will go up to half a second or even a second.

[00:39:08] I’m on a trip. As long as I’m not shifting the ground with my weight there, if I’m going to do slow shutter speeds, I will walk away and start it remotely. Even sitting next to the camera, sometimes almost you’re breathing you’ll move your leg a tiny bit. So I tend to walk away if they’re slow.

[00:39:25] So either I do slow shutter speeds or I am certainly not against taking the specimen itself and moving it into a location where there’s more light. You don’t ever want any direct sunlight on the subject that creates a lot of problems, but I just move it to a place where there’s more light. I carry little things like potato chips, the little clips that you use to close the potato chip bag.

[00:39:46] I carry a couple of those in my camera bag that I use to hold twigs or leaves or whatever. So I can put things in a place that has a little bit more light. So those are the two things I do. I will sometimes, especially if it’s the end of the day and there just isn’t anymore light. I do carry a couple of l e d light panels with me.

[00:40:04] I don’t use flash. I know a number of photographers who photograph slime molds and then do an exquisite job and they use flash. It’s just not my cup of tea. I haven’t, I’ve never really learned flash very well. That may be the reason I’ve just managed to do just fine with the lighting setup that I have.

[00:40:21] Flash would make it easier. Yeah, in the dark spaces, for sure. Flash would make it easier. There are other issues you have to deal with. With flash, you have to really be good about diffusing the flash, otherwise you get what are called speculate highlights and other issues like.

[00:40:35] Michael Hawk: Yeah I was gonna say, I think flash would actually be, in a lot of ways more challenging because of the issues you just brought up.

[00:40:41] Alison Pollack: I have a number of photographer friends who use Flash exclusively. They don’t use other lights, and their photos are beautiful, so you can certainly do well with flash. It’s just not the path that I’ve chosen for myself. I don’t wanna diminish use of flash. It’s perfectly fine. You just have to be careful with diffusion.

[00:40:57] Michael Hawk: Makes sense. One of the great things about your field photography is the composition. How do you set up the composition to create just such wonderful works of.

[00:41:06] Alison Pollack: First of all, thank you very much. I, composition’s really important to me, so the first thing I should say is that I’m looking for something, the subject, whether it’s a slim, old or fungus that has some appeal to me. I’m very heart centered, so I wanted to have some sort of emotional appeal to me. So that would be my favorite kind of a subject rather than just a technical or a documentary style.

[00:41:29] And beyond that, composition is really important to me and in particular my style of photography. This is just my personal style. So I like to have a very soft, at a focused background, which is called bokeh. That’s the technical term, a very soft background. And you learn over time how much of a distance to put between your subject and something in the background in order to have that soft background.

[00:41:53] And also lower F stops or wider apertures on your camera will also make for a softer background. what I’m looking for, slime molds or tiny fungi. I love to photograph tiny fungi as well. They’re a little bit bigger, so a little bit easier to photograph. But I also love them as subjects.

[00:42:10] If I’m going to position them where they are and I’m not gonna move them, then I look very carefully at what’s behind them. And I will always clean the background, get bits of anything stray light, anything that is anything. If I look through the view finder and my eye is distracted to looking at something beyond what my subject is, then I try to remove it from the background.

[00:42:30] I also. Not with the case of slime molds, but it’s too hard. But for mushrooms, tiny mushrooms, I also clean them. So if there’s specks of dirt on them or something else on them, I carry tiny tweezers with me and I carry tiny paint brushes. And so I do what my friend Tim calls custodial maintenance on the fungi.

[00:42:49] So I brush off bits of dirt or leaves or whatever, or take things off with a tweezer. So I try to clean it up as much as possible. If there are some really tiny spots where I’m afraid if I remove them, I’m going to damage the mushroom, then I’ll clean those up and Photoshop at home. So the background is really important to me.

[00:43:07] So cleaning up the background. And sometimes when I set things up, I don’t really notice it, but then if I, once I do the stack and I look through the camera and I run through the stack and all of a sudden I say, oops, there’s something in the background. Then I’ll clean it up and just re-shoot the stack.

[00:43:23] Michael Hawk: I see. And that does take conscious effort. I know there have been many times where I’ve been doing just basic macro photography and I’m so focused on the subject. I totally miss some other distracting element. So I think going into it with that in mind is probably helpful, and that’s something I should try to do more

[00:43:37] Alison Pollack: And certainly when I started out doing this, I did that a lot. I was constantly saying, oh, why did I, how did I miss that? But I’m much better at it now. Yeah

[00:43:47] Michael Hawk: And I would really be interested, I don’t know if you’re willing to share this or not, but some of the specifics on your equipment, like makes and models. Cause I’m thinking tripods, the tripod I have, I can extend it up and down and there’s some flexibility. But if I, if there’s a log laying on the forest floor, my tripod is not gonna.

[00:44:05] Down low like that. So I’m curious to hear about some of the details,

[00:44:08] Alison Pollack: sure. I’m willing to do that, I guess asked a ton, what’s my gear? What camera do I use? What lens do I use? What tripod do I use? And I really I’ll always answer that question, and then I always add, but it’s not about the gear, it’s not about the camera, it’s not about the lens, it’s not about the tripod.

[00:44:23] You can do the kinds of photographs I do in the field with tons of different kinds of cameras and lense. That being said, the tripod that I use, which happens to be a manfrotto, but there are other tripods that do the same thing. It has a center post. While there are two ways to get around getting the camera low enough, one is if you can invert your center post and turn it upside down, and then you’re hanging your camera from what used to be the top of the center post, but now is the bottom of the center post.

[00:44:52] So that’s a way to get your camera very low. You’re operating the camera upside down, so you have to get used to that. My tripod, the center post flips to go horizontal. It doesn’t invert. It flips to go from vertical to horizontal. And between that and the ability to splay out the legs at any angle I want and any length that I want, that with the simple laws of geometry and physics allows me to get the camera pretty much anywhere I want it.

[00:45:21] Michael Hawk: So that’s the key feature I suppose to look for if you’re gonna be taking tripod photos low to the ground.

[00:45:28] Alison Pollack: You have to have some way to get it low. Either invert the center post or flip it. I prefer the way the flip it way because the camera is still right side up and I’m controlling the, I’m not controlling my camera upside down.

[00:45:41] Michael Hawk: Makes sense now. Your home setup, this is gonna be amazing. Tell me about how you how you do this all at home.

[00:45:48] Alison Pollack: So at home, the Sony that I used to have in the field is now the one I use at home and at home. Basically two different lenses that I use. The first one is one, it’s laowa. It’s a sort of a funny name, l a o w a. And they have a lens which goes from two and a half to five x, meaning two and a half to five times life size, and it’s a F four or $500.

[00:46:15] And considering the price of that lens, it’s incredibly good. I love that lens. I still use that lens, and it creates, in my opinion, beautiful pictures. It is a manual lens. It has no automatic focus, so that means either you have to have incredibly good finger control to move your camera a tiny bit at a time.

[00:46:35] Or since I don’t have that, I have something called an automated rail. So it’s a piece of equipment that has an electronic controller, and you set where the camera starts, and it’s a rail that moves with a geared drive. It moves the camera along the rail with a distance that you specify in microns.

[00:46:58] That’s thousands. Millimeter. Yeah, so a very precise instruments. So I used that at, that’s where I started at home. I still use that. And then I read about people who were using microscope objectives, adapted to their cameras to photograph slim molds, which to photograph other things. At first, I read about other things and then I thought, wow, wonder if I could try that with a slime old.

[00:47:20] So I bought a 10 x microscope objective and learned how to adapt it to my camera, and I’ve been using that for, I brought it right before the pandemic started, like the week before, which was great because I had a lot to keep me busy during the pandemic. So I used that for a lot of the stuff that I do these days, and I still wanna get even closer.

[00:47:42] So I am toying with the idea of getting a 20 x microscope objective, which will be a lot harder to use.

[00:47:48] Michael Hawk: Are there DIYs online for adapting a microscope? Objective for a camera

[00:47:53] Alison Pollack: Yes. Yeah it’s actually quite simple. So yeah, there are DIYs. If you just Google how to adapt a microscope objective to your camera, you’ll find lots of information at now. Yes. Three, four years ago, no, but now there’s tons of information online. I’ll give another plug to there’s a guy named Alan Walls who has an excellent series of videos.

[00:48:14] He has, oh gosh, at least a couple hundred videos online, all about macro photography and extreme macro photography. And if you wanna learn how to do this, adapting a microscope objective to your camera, he has just a wealth of information. He’s an excellent teacher and you will learn a lot by watching his video.

[00:48:34] Michael Hawk: That sounds great. And it, I think you told me that you were just recently interviewed by him or so had some.

[00:48:40] Alison Pollack: Yeah, he asked me a long time ago and I just, I was shy and I didn’t wanna do it, and finally I said yes. So it was just about a week and a half ago that he interviewed me for a couple of hours, along with Rick Littlefield, who is the the brain and the developer of Zen Stacker, which is, in my opinion, the best focus stacking software.

[00:48:57] So that’s now online and we can put a link to that in the show notes as well. And in that video, I show all of my gear and explain how I do things.

[00:49:07] Michael Hawk: I’ll point to that for sure. I’ve been an amateur photographer. I’ve sold a few images over the years, so these things you talk about, I’ve toyed with at times, but I have never perfected. So I’m looking forward to seeing more about how you do it.

[00:49:21] Alison Pollack: It’s a lot of fun. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of time, but it is a lot of fun. I’m just always blown away by what I can reveal,

[00:49:29] Michael Hawk: . And then when you see that image after spending all the time and you actually see it on the screen and it just it takes your breath away sometimes when it works out, it’s oh my gosh, this is what it looks like

[00:49:38] Alison Pollack: Yeah, but actually I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I always know what it’s gonna look like beforehand because I have a microscope. So I had an experience all too many times of going through the hours long process of taking hundreds of photos with the microscope objective, stacking them only to find that there was a big piece of dirt on one of the fruiting bodies that, to me, destroyed the image.

[00:49:58] So I decided to get a dissecting microscope so that I could look at the slim molds first, figure out which are the prettiest ones, what’s the best angle, and that was really a great investment. They’re not that expensive. And then you get to also get to see all kinds of really cool things in the microscope, like spring tales, for example.

[00:50:19] So I bought a micro. So that I could see them first. And so I have a very good idea of what I want the image to look like. So when it comes outta focus stacking, it’s not actually the first time I’m seeing it.

[00:50:29] Michael Hawk: You’ve graduated to a better system. That’s a brilliant idea to do that. So it, it seems so simple in retrospect, but one of the things I would’ve never really thought to do,

[00:50:37] Alison Pollack: While it was so frustrating that I don’t know easily a handful of times where I was just unhappy with the way the picture came out, I said, if only I had known what it looked like beforehand, duh. There’s a way to do that. I also, by the way, just bought a compound microscope which is much higher magnification because that’s what, if you wanna be able to, ID the slime molds to species the vast majority of the time, you need to look at the insides of the slime mold and the spores under a compound microscope.

[00:51:04] Yet further down the rabbit hole, more of a time sink. But I’m really curious to do that.

[00:51:09] Michael Hawk: Is an electron microscope up next for you, then it seems like that’s the path you’re going down.

[00:51:14] Alison Pollack: That’s the one, the joke that my husband is constantly saying to me, you’re gonna get electron microscope. I don’t think so. But I have played with one, I have played with one once, not for photo. I actually did a series of macro photography of seeds, native California plant seeds, and I was able to connect with somebody at the Academy of Sciences who very kindly let me work with her on a scanning electron microscope to look at these seeds.

[00:51:37] So that was really cool.

[00:51:38] Michael Hawk: How

[00:51:38] Alison Pollack: no, I don’t think I’m going to, I don’t think I’m going to get one.

[00:51:42] Michael Hawk: So you talked a little bit about identification and how it can be very difficult to identify and sometimes you actually have to dissect these slime molds. . What resources do you have though for people who want to learn more, either about ID or slime molds themselves?

[00:51:54] That. They might be able to find books or videos or webinars or whatever may come to mind for you.

[00:52:01] Alison Pollack: Sure. Let me answer a slightly different question first. I would say maybe I’m just a guess, maybe 10% or so of the documented slim molds can be I’D by a good photo alone. You don’t need to see the insides, but the vast majority of them you do. So you need to look at what are called the inside, that sphere that holds.

[00:52:20] Sphere like thing that holds the spores are these threads called capal threads. And so you have to look at the structure and the shape and the characteristics of these capal threads, as well as the size of the spores and what’s called the ornamentation on the spores. And that of course, has to be done with a compound microscope at a thousand x.

[00:52:38] Michael Hawk: Are there keys to help with identification under a microscope or even without a micro.

[00:52:42] Alison Pollack: There are some keys for sure. There are a number of books that, that have keys in them. There are a few keys online. I would say for me, what I’ve seen, the best key is in a two volume set of books. It’s in French called Les Myxomycètes, but it’s, the keys are in English, the photographs, stunning photographs in one volume, and then the keys in French and English in the other volume.

[00:53:06] Unfortunately. That book has gone out of print, which is a real bummer because it’s a fantastic resource. There are other older keys out there, some of which can be reproduced online. I can give you something to put in the show notes if you’d like about available keys online. I, but I think that the actual best resource, if you wanna learn about slime molds and it’s free and you’re, you have microscopic images as well as macro images, is to post them to the Facebook slime mold group.

[00:53:34] If you post those images, almost surely one of the experts in that group will help you identify the species.

[00:53:40] Michael Hawk: Very cool.

[00:53:41] Alison Pollack: It is very cool. I’ve learned so much from just reading what the experts say about why something is one species and not another species. It’s just terrific. They’re so generous with their time there.

[00:53:53] Michael Hawk: So your home setup, you’ve refined your process so well that I, as I understand it, you entered the Nikon Small World competition and did quite well. So tell me about that experience.

[00:54:03] Alison Pollack: yeah. That’s a competition put on by Nikon for the last almost 50 years, photography through the microscope, which includes literally photography through a microscope or a homemade microscope. And my setup is considered a homemade microscope. And I’d heard about it from a friend and when I first looked at it, this is several years ago, I thought the photos on there were just amazing and he suggested entering and I just said, No way.

[00:54:28] And the year after I did, you’re allowed to enter three photographs in a year. So I entered three photographs and I was completely astonished when one of them was selected for the top 20. I was really excited about that. And then this year I entered three photos again, and this time one of my photos placed fifth place, which really blew me away.

[00:54:48] I was just jumping up and down when I found out, and I had a second of my photos selected for a category they call honor roll mentions. So it was really very exciting the week that all came out.

[00:55:00] Michael Hawk: Is there a link I can point people to to see your photo and the other

[00:55:03] Alison Pollack: Futures Google Nikon, small World, you’ll find it.

[00:55:05] Michael Hawk: I’ll link to those results in the show notes so that people can find your photo and see the other photos that were in the contest. All right, so we are rapidly approaching the end of our time, so I wanna make sure that we hit a couple of other fun wrap up topics.

[00:55:19] Thinking back, is there a top of head event or an encounter that really stands out as escalating your interest or care for the natural world?

[00:55:28] Alison Pollack: Sure. I would say, actually, can I give two answers? I’m trained as a mathematician, but my career was environmental science and specifically air pollution. And one time when I was pretty early into my career, I was hiking. With my partner in, it was Sequoia National Park and I was, we hiked up to the top of a mountain and we were looking west towards LA and there was this vast cloud of ozone over LA and it was just shocking to me to see that.

[00:55:57] And I just, I can still see it so clearly that I just remember thinking, I’m really glad I’m doing my bit to help the environment. So that was one. And the other one was, the first time I went to Oregon was on a consulting job and somebody was driving me somewhere to go look at something and we passed what was a clear cut area and I’d never even seen, I’d heard the term clear cut, but I’d never seen pictures of it and certainly never seen one.

[00:56:22] And I, we turned a corner and there was this clear cut forest and I just burst into tears. It was just horrible to me to see to take down stands of what in some cases were old growth trees and was really sad. That was something I definitely remember.

[00:56:36] Michael Hawk: And we’ve only really recently, I say we as in like society, have only recently learned about the dramatic impact beyond the trees that has, there’s irreparable harm that’s done to the soils and to the broader ecosystems when that happens. Yeah, definitely moving to see that. So maybe on a related note then if you could magically impart one ecological concept to help people see the world like you see it, what would that.

[00:57:02] Alison Pollack: I would encourage people to do as much as they can to preserve the remaining forest that we have left. It’s not just the, the redwood forest that are almost completely decimated in the, in California and the Pacific Northwest, but it’s destruction in the Amazon and destruction all over Asia for growing palm oil.

[00:57:19] So whatever people can do to preserve, the remaining forest that we have, you chop down the forest and you’re not only doing a horrible damage in terms of climate change, but you’re also really destroying species. We need to preserve the forest.

[00:57:35] Michael Hawk: Do you have any recommendations as to how people can help in that regard? Do you have preferred methods charities, non-profits, whatever.

[00:57:42] Alison Pollack: My approach is to contribute to various charities as Sierra Club is certainly one here. But there are lots of charities that you can contribute to just do what you can or get out there and do work or read what you can. Try to educate people, if you don’t know enough about the forest and you just go walk in a forest after a rain, a forest after a rain.

[00:58:02] It’s just a beautiful place. I like to say that my happy place is a wet forest. I need to get a t-shirt with that. But yeah, it’s just beautiful and I think the more that people get into the forest and realize how gorgeous it is, the more that they’ll want to save.

[00:58:14] Michael Hawk: Absolutely. Taking a hard right turn, I guess. Do you have any upcoming projects or anything else that you’d like to highlight?

[00:58:22] Alison Pollack: I do have one upcoming project, which is exciting for me. Alan Rockefeller, who’s a very well known Mycologist, and I will be teaching a five day class called The Art of Mushroom Photography. I will probably do a little bit slimed as well. The Art of Mushroom Photography, and that’s a five day class to be held at a really beautiful location on an island just off the coast of Wisconsin, Madeline Island.

[00:58:46] It’s a place called Madeline Island School of the Arts, so that’s going to be next September. I hear the place is beautiful, the facilities are beautiful and I’m really looking forward to teaching that class. And I’m gonna be giving some talks coming up. I didn’t wanna give talks during the pandemic because I don’t really like doing Zoom talks that much.

[00:59:05] So things are opening up now. So I’ve already signed up to give a few talks this season, so I’m excited about that. Anything I can do to show people the beauty of slime molds and tiny fungi and head of photograph them, I’m happy to do.

[00:59:18] Michael Hawk: Is there somewhere you can point people towards do you promote these events on your Instagram or any other on your website or anything like that?

[00:59:25] Alison Pollack: I wish I could say yes. Look at my website, and I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t yet have a website. I just haven’t taken the time to do it. I’d just rather be doing the photography. But I I have an Instagram and a Facebook account, which will be in the, in your show notes. And I just finally set up a link tree for each of those.

[00:59:43] So in that link tree, there’s a listing of the Madeline Island class listed in there, the video I referred to from Allen Walls that’s in there, and a few other things. So I, I’ll keep that updated. That’s probably the best place to, to find additional information. And if people wanna contact me, they can also contact me through the Facebook and Instagram accounts.

[01:00:01] Michael Hawk: All right, perfect. I’ll make sure that, yeah. All of those links will be in the show notes for sure. Like we were talking about before, sometimes when I post the podcast, there’s actually a limited number of characters that go into the podcast feed directly. So I have full show notes on my website at podcast dot nature’s archive.com.

[01:00:17] So if anything doesn’t fit for some reason, make sure to check that out, and you’ll be able to find all these great links that Alison mentioned.

[01:00:24] Alison Pollack: I can actually put a couple of books in

[01:00:26] Michael Hawk: Oh, okay.

[01:00:27] Alison Pollack: people can get for introductions to slim molds.

[01:00:29] Michael Hawk: That would be great. All right, so Alison, this has really. An enlightening discussion for me and I’m super motivated. The timing couldn’t have been better for our weather here, so I’m really motivated to get out and see what I can find and and I’ll make sure to share anything I do find on my own Instagram too.

[01:00:45] But is there anything else that you wanna say before we call out today?

[01:00:48] Alison Pollack: Nope, think. I think we’re good. It’s been, I’ve been looking forward to doing this. I’m having fun, and I encourage people wherever you are, go out into a wet forest and take your magnifying glass and look for the beauty of tiny organisms.

[01:01:04] Michael Hawk: All right, thank you so much. I appreciate you and you taking the time today to do this. It as I said, it’s been a great joy.

[01:01:10] Alison Pollack: Thank you.


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