October 28th, 2008 - The Pumpkins That Wouldn't Die...!


This is weirdness. Last night I gave my "Things that Glow in the Night" program at Springbrook. That's the one where we hike around at night with hand-held ultraviolet lights and look for objects that fluoresce (glow under UV), or bioluminesce (create their own light). Normally we find some rocks that have some UV responsive qualities, sometimes we'll find some insect larvae that glow, or if it's warm enough we'll see some fireflies.
Occasionally we'll come across fungi that glows, usually in tree bark or rotted stumps. Last night we happened to be hiking past one of the piles of trashed Jack-O-Lanterns from last week's "Pumpkin Night in the Park" event, where about 700 carved pumpkins were lining the trails at the park. After it was over we returned the pumpkins to Mother Earth and let the animals and detritus eaters have their fill.
I got the idea to bring the lights over to the pile of smashed pumpkins just to see if anything would glow, and THE THINGS WENT NUTS!!!

In the slime mold or rotted sections of some of the pumpkins could be seen a BRIGHT GLOWING of pink, orange, and blue hues. Some had darker purple tones than the purple of the UV, some parts looked like ghostly little sea creatures suspended in clear gelatin. It was some of the most active luminescence I've seen during any of my hikes. I might have to go back there again and see if it changes as things "age" a little. Interesting thing about slime molds: scientists aren't really sure if they are animals or plants. They have characteristics of both. At times. Hunh. If you are a believer in EVOLUTION (gasp!) or Biological Change Over Time, they might even be in your distant family tree. Hey, no jokes about your relatives being slime molds now.

As to the reason WHY the things glow so much, I can believe the concentrations of molds and fungi showing a lot of UV reaction, but this seems even more than, um, "normal." One factor could be that after our pumpkins are carved, the cut surfaces are coated with Vaseline brand petroleum jelly (R) to retard spoilage until they are ready to be put out. I know that petroleum products themselves will fluoresce, as oil scientists use UV light to judge different qualities of crude oil, as IT glows. Perhaps some of this glowing is from the leftover Vaseline. Maybe the Vaseline completely broke down after our formidable rainstorms during the week and the mold went crazy. Perhaps, we'll never know. Perhaps there will be a giant glowing gelatinous blob waiting for me at the door of Springbrook Nature Center by the time I get to work tonight and I'll have to get Steve McQueen to help me fight it off with what's left of the domestic National Guard...
More as this develops...