Slimy, Weird, Cheaters

Lurking in gutters, gardens and forests, just under-foot, lies something strange. Something almost alien. They lead independent lives as single cells foraging for, and feeding on, bacteria. But when food becomes scarce they work together, in their millions, forming a multicellular ‘organism’ of individuals. In this form they’re more mobile; moving about, looking for food or new environments, displaying something akin to a brainless form of intelligence. They are everywhere, on almost every continent; but they didn’t arrive on a meteorite, like aliens bent on world domination. Instead they’ve been with us for nearly a billion years. They are the ‘slime moulds’. But wherever individuals cooperate for the greater good of their ilk, there are always cheaters; even among the slime moulds.

A dried up celibate kleptomaniac

If there’s one thing that biologists agree on, it’s that sex is good. Really good*. Huge amounts of time and energy are invested in it. Well, alas, not so much in the act per se, as much as in finding a way to have sex; to tempt a mate or dispatch a rival. But is it really worth the ego busting knock-backs, the frustration, the time and energy? One quirky animal certainly doesn’t think so; it’s had a dry patch on a geological timescale. For the last 80 million years or so a small pond and fresh water dwelling animal called a bdelloid rotifer has done away with sex, and males, entirely. How has it managed for so long without sex? Simple. It steals.