Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Stinkhorn is Born

Theoretically, in the best of all possible worlds a stinkhorn can expand from its immature "egg" stage to full size within thirty minutes. It actually takes several days to produce the nascent fruitbodies (primordia), but once formed, the fungus can bulk up rapidly by taking in water.

The following series of photos illustrating the growth of a Ravenel's Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenellii) spans about seven hours, maybe not fast enough to win any medals in the Fungal Olympiad 100 mm dash, but still a respectable rate of growth.

10:09 AM

10:52 AM

11:30 AM ... soon enough there were flies were checking out the sticky – and despite its obnoxious odor – sugary goo, which also contains the spores.

12:02 PM

12:37 PM

1:45 PM

2:54 PM

3:21 PM

4:59 PM

There was already an older stinkhorn to growing to the right of the "newborn"; the pair of fetid fungi made their presence known at a distance of a good three meters and no doubt insectile senses could detect the stinkhorn's odorous advertisment from a much greater distance. A carpenter ant and two species of flies paid a visit, and upon departure the insects took tiny samples of the spore mass with them, sowing the genes of the phallic fungi far and wide.

A few other fungi were present on the lawn, such as these Xylaria polymorpha, more commonly called Dead Man's Fingers, and they do indeed resemble four fingers – and a thumb – poking out of the ground.

This cluster of Bird's-Nest Fungi has seen better days and is too old to identify as to species. The "eggs" (periodoles) – each containing thousands of spores – that usually occupy the bottoms of the cups or nests (peridia) are long gone, leaving only their impressions in the bottoms of the cups. Like the stinkhorns, Bird's-Nest Fungi deviate from the usual fungal scheme of relying on the wind for spore dispersal. The "eggs" are ejected when a raindrop hits the "nest"; each egg has a sticky string (funiculus) that latches on to sticks, leaves and other woodland floor litter.

Should you happen to be a nematode worm, fear this fungus! Rather featureless and nondescript, it not only makes up for an unremarkable appearance with a tongue-twisting not so ho-hum handle – Hohenbuehelia angustata – it is also a predator, or more accurately, nematophagous.