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Weird "slime" baffles nature boffins

Last modified: 18 February 2013

Star Jelly

Image: RSPB - Steve Hughes

In the shadow of Glastonbury Tor the RSPB is investigating the appearance of a strange jelly like substance on its popular Ham Wall nature reserve. As yet the mystery slime is unidentified.

Steve Hughes, RSPB Site manager, said; “This past week we’ve been finding piles of this translucent jelly dotted around the reserve. Always on grass banks away from the water’s edge. They are usually about 10cms in diameter. We’ve asked experts what it might be, but as yet no one is really sure. Whatever it is – it’s very weird”.

This isn’t the first time a substance like this has appeared on an RSPB reserve. In April 2012 some turned up on the wildlife charity’s Langford Lowfields Reserve in the Midlands.

Tony Whitehead, RSPB spokesperson for the south west said; “Although we don’t know what it actually is, similar substances have described previously. In records dating back to the 14th Century it’s known variously as star jelly, astral jelly or astromyxin. In folklore it is said to be deposited in the wake of meteor showers.”

Scientific speculation as to the nature of the “jelly” is varied. One of the more favoured explanations is that it is a form of cyanobacteria called Nostoc. Some however suggest that it is the remains of the regurgitated innards of amphibians such as frogs and toads and/or their spawn. Alternatively it may be related to the intriguingly named crystal brain fungus (Exidia nucleate).

Mr Whitehead added; “It’s great that in this day and age that there are still mysteries out there. We’ve read a few articles now – and much speculation. One suggested it was neither  animal nor plant, and another that it didn’t contain DNA, although it does give the appearance of something “living”!

“Our reserve team will be looking out for the slime over the next few days, but if anyone can offer any explanations we’d be glad to hear.”

Naturally, anyone who comes across the mystery slime on the nature reserve is asked not to touch, and simply let site staff know.

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