Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Miscellany of Mushrooms

The first three mushroom species were found growing along the short woodland path connecting Jamieson St. to the Gateway Health Center. Earthy Inocybe (Inocybe geophylla, var. lilacina), mycorrhizal with conifers and hardwoods, was by far one of the most abundant mushrooms at this location. Most specimens were found growing under White Pine.

Inocybe geophylla teamed with a twinberry makes a picturesque pair.

A view of the gills.

The pale lilac tint has faded from this older mushroom.

In contrast to the omnipresent Inocybes, there were only a few Ascocoryne sp. hiding on the underside of a fragment of decaying wood, the largest of these sac fungi being only about 5 mm in diameter. The little "bug" visible on the surface of the specimen to the lower right is a Velvet Mite.

A cluster of Mock Oyster or Orange Oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans) growing on a decaying stump, the second photo includes a complimentary slug. I didn't observe the slug eating this particular fungus, but have seen them chowing down on a wide variety of fungi that are toxic to human beings, including Amanita sp.

The next three species were encountered along the trail between Quin-Mo-Lac Road and the Crookston Road. Given that this mushroom is mycorrhizal with conifers, it was no surprise to find a large group of Tricholoma vaccinum fruiting under White Spruce.

A much hairier upper surface and generally more robust build help distinguish Trametes hirsuta from its cousin Trametes pubescens.

This trail runs parallel to Snake Lake and White Lake and the local beavers were busy; large areas of the road were flooded, turning a simple afternoon walk into an adventure in slogging through mud and water. But it was all worth it to experience my first encounter with the distinctive Cinnibar Polypore (Pycnoporus cinnibarinus). According to sources on the Internet this fungus is rather uncommon, and this stick hosted only three specimens, all about 2 cm across.

Next stop: on the trail going east of Tweed, about a hundred Tricholoma sp., mostly growing under White Pine but many also distributed on the forest floor. I can't identify these mushrooms as to species, the closest is Tricholoma squarrulosum but the stem doesn't conform to the descriptions in any species accounts I've read thus far.

A collection of Luminescent Panellus (Panellus stipticus) growing nearby on a fallen elm. Since this fungus is reputed to be bioluminescent I took some samples home with me to observe this phenomenon myself. After about ten to fifteen minutes my eyes became acclimated to the total darkness, and sure enough, I could see a very faint glow emanating from the gills.

A distinct line is formed where the gills terminate at the stem.

The same log was home to a group of Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). Although I have plenty of photos of this ubiquitous species, its bold, attractive markings make it hard to pass up taking yet another picture of this striking little polypore.

A colorful colony of Brick Top (Hypholoma sublateritium) sprouting from the stump of the fallen elm. A very productive tree even after its demise, the dead elm also supported a couple of other species of polypore and a collection of Lemon Drops.

The cottony stuff clinging to the stem and the perimeter of the cap is the remnants of the web-like partial inner veil; this type of veil is called a cortina.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Look beneath the Surface

This past summer I've made an effort to focus on visiting an assortment of our local wetland habitats and photographing their denizens (with an emphasis on odonates). As my camera is ill suited to underwater photography the subject matter is heavily weighted in favour of what lives in the vicinity of, or on the surface of, the waterways, thereby overlooking all the fascinating living things which make the water itself their home.

A metal sieve works best for sifting through debris that has collected in still pools of water; nylon or fibre mesh insect nets tend to snag and tear on sticks and rocks. Since it's autumn and much of the aforementioned debris is fallen leaves, it's not surprising that on my first couple of tries I dredged up some very leaf and stick-like insects. All three insects are true bugs, members of the order Hemiptera, with the piercing/sucking mouth parts typical of this group, and can bite if handled carelessly. And all three species are predacious, with raptorial front legs. More good reasons to sift the detritus with a sieve rather than one's fingers.

Left: Water Scorpion (sometimes called a Water Stick) ... Ranatra sp.
Center: Water Scorpion ... Nepa sp.
Right: Giant Water Bug ... Belostoma sp.

A couple of the stick-like Water Scorpions (Ranatra sp.): removing these insects from the water to take pictures didn't cause them any harm or distress. All of these bugs are air breathers, have fully functional wings and can easily fly to a new pool if their current home dries up, or in order to colonize new habitats. And despite the appellation "scorpion" the filaments at the end of the abdomen are harmless, they serve as breathing tubes.

A much more foliform – meaning leaf-like – Water Scorpion (Nepa sp.) in its aquatic abode.

Ventral and dorsal views of Nepa sp. It's interesting to observe the differences in behavior between the two water scorpion species. Not long after they were out of the water the two Ranatra became very active and blew their cover as "sticks". But when removed from its watery element, this insect refused to budge or twitch and did its best to behave like a dead leaf.

Another dead leaf mimic: this species of Giant Water Bug (Belostoma sp.) is only about 25 mm long, much smaller than its cousin Lethocerus americanus, which can attain twice this length.

Whenever possible it's preferable to photograph animals in their natural element. However, in the case of aquatic subjects glare reflected from the surface of the water can present a problem. Furthermore, the survival of many water dwellers depends on their ability to swim – fast – and they generally refuse co-operate and pose to have their picture taken. Moving this Fishfly larva (Chauliodes sp.) to a dry place was no solution ... it just lay on the rock, looking very much like a slug.

A small plastic container with a bit of water in the bottom served to confine the insect. However, I still had to work around glare and reflections, and for my next trip I'm going to try to a vessel that's off-white in order to produce a more neutral, less contrasting background.

Judging by the jaws I would have thought that the larval form of Chauliodes is carnivorous, but it appears that they will also consume vegetable matter and detritus.

The container also proved handy for temporarily constraining these isopods. Quite common in the submerged litter, these little freshwater crustaceans belong to the same order as the more familiar sowbugs, pillbugs and woodlice they so closely resemble. The best I could do in terms of an I.D. is family Asellidae (nor do I have any idea what kind of a worm that is in the second photo – it looks like an earthworm).

Saving the best (or perhaps the weirdest) for last: at first I mistook this peculiar looking wad of gray slime for a ... well, a wad of gray slime. It's actually an insect larva called a Rat-tailed Maggot, and will go through some rather dramatic changes on its way to adulthood; here's an image of the adult: Eristalis sp. Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction ...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Toadstool Trail Mix

"Trail mix" not meaning edible, but rather the mash, medley or miscellany of mushrooms found along or near "the Trail", whereas the folk name toadstool generally does refer to a mushroom that is poisonous.

The etymology of the word "toadstool" has been obscured by time; some think that in bygone days people believed toads used such mushrooms for seats, thereby passing on their toxins. And here's an example of a batrachian perching on a polypore – a Green Treefrog lounging on a Dryad's Saddle.

Beautiful but lethal ... a group of Deadly Galerina (Galerina marginata) photographed along a woodland path following the north shore of Stoco Lake.

These cheerful little sac fungi were brightening the shadier areas of the same decaying log. Lemon Drops (Bisporella citrina) are tiny, the caps of the largest specimens were no more than 3 mm in diameter.

Closeups of a Warty Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum), the second image shows the inside. A common species, a cluster of these small puffballs (about 25 mm in diameter) were making themselves at home in an open, sunny clearing.

Mycology is a relatively young science, with the names of and relationships between fungi being in a constant state of flux. I encountered several groups of these attactive mushrooms east of town along the trail, all of them growing on boxelder. My copy of Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada calls the mushrooms in the following images Hypsizygus tessulatus, but according to MushroomExpert.Com this species is named Hypsizygus ulmarius.

The moist shady woods further east are the habitat of these large white mushrooms, probably Clitocybe robusta. A cell phone is included in the photo to impart a sense of scale.

A group of Coprinus sp. growing on a lawn in town – fungi can be found everywhere and you don't have to go far from home to find them. I'm not sure if these are Tippler's Bane, Mica Cap, or maybe some other species ...

A section view of one of the mushrooms.

Often called Inky Caps, the fruitbodies of Coprinus can autolyze or self-digest in a relatively short time. This is what a group of mushrooms looked like four days after they were first photographed.

Of course, the local library is a good place to study mycology ... about a hundred Leucocoprinus birnbaumii were growing in the potted plant in the reading room. At this stage the mushrooms are still immature and the caps have not yet opened to expose the gills.

Two days later: the caps have assumed their familiar parasol shapes.