I first noticed them a couple of weeks before Christmas, as I made a trip to the compost heap: a small collection of white, mushy balls on the waterlogged back lawn. They were underneath the sycamore tree, where the moles dig. Sleet had fallen the previous evening, so I assumed they were clumps of wet snow which had fallen from the branches above—although I was surprised they hadn't melted.
They were still there the following day. So I went over to have a look. Definitely mushy snow!
They were still there the day after. It was way too warm for snow by then, so I took a closer look. They looked uncannily like snow-slush, but appeared even wetter now: less white, more transparent and blobby. Something to do with slugs? Some sort of weird fungus, perhaps? Or maybe one of those amazing slime moulds I've read about?
Come the New Year, it finally dawned on me that I should probably take some photos:
The blobs had become even clearer by now: more gelatinous:
Time to search the internet for clues…
You know you're in big trouble when the most useful information you can find on the web comes from that bastion of accuracy, the science section of the Daily Mail: The real-life Blob: Is mysterious translucent jelly found in Cumbrian Fells from outer space? it asked.
As with any popular media science story that poses a question in its headline, it's a fairly safe bet that the answer is ‘no’: I'm pretty sure these blobs are not from outer space. The Daily Fail refers to them as star jelly, but star jelly turns out to be a name from folklore for mysterious gelatinous blobs, so that's not much help at all.
There seem to be plenty of hypotheses as to what these blobs might be, from nostoc cyanobacteria to slime moulds, from the souls of politicians to the remains of frog oviducts discarded by predators. But I have not been able to find a definitive, well-informed answer as to what they actually are.
(They're still there, by the way.)