Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Loss for Words

from Wikimedia
A beautiful little posting on the blog Tuesdays in the Tallgrass began with this startling statement which should awaken us all to the current state of nature awareness.
"What’s in a name? The Oxford Junior (Illustrated) Dictionary has eliminated some words from its children’s dictionary that name things. Acorn. Willow. Buttercup. Kingfisher–and, other words that are about nature. Adults I encounter no longer seem to have a reference point for common names of plants and other members of the natural world."
Acorn!  Willow!  Say it ain't so!  An article in the New Yorker pointed out their passing to make room for "broadband" and "MP3 player".  Nothing new here,  The 2008 version deleted "moss" and "fern".  The changing of entries to accommodate new words has occurred throughout the history of dictionaries, eliminating archaic words no longer in use, a necessity in all but the most encyclopedic of dictionaries.

BUT, the choice of the words that a child might look up says something to me about our current generation of parents and children.  More important, the target audience for this dictionary are 7 year old kids and presumably the parents who are reading with them.  Are they really going to look up "MP3 player----REALLY?"  And what is more likely to become archaic in the next generation of dictionary, MP3 or acorn?  Can you say "8-track player?"
An acorn, struggling for life - REK
My concern is not with the dictionary itself but in the implications of the changes.  This is a formal recognition by editors that acorns and moss are no longer words a child might encounter!  When our kids lose an awareness of nature, we are all in trouble.  After all,  "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow."

Postscript December 23, 2016
Lisa Berger responded with a followup link which lists more deleted words of nature, but with a charming addition of new (to us) words from the British Isles.   Consider "Crizzle: Northamptonshire dialect verb for the freezing of water that evokes the sound of a natural activity too slow for human hearing to detect."

I think you will find this an uplifting listing during our current trying times.  Check out  24 profoundly beautiful words that describe nature and landscapes,

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

One Tough Fly

As we prepare to survive the Ozark winter, I came across this incredible midge living in semi-arid regions of Central Africa.  Polypedilum vanderplanki is a true survivor.  It lives in tiny transient mud puddles in a region where the dry season may go 8 months without a drop of rain.  Its larvae can survive complete dehydration at high temperatures for months, then revive within an hour to its normal activity.  Its eggs, pupae and adults die in those same circumstances.

Once fully dehydrated, it can survive a whole string of tortures designed by fiendish (or well intentioned scientists) determining the limits to its life.  In a fully dehydrated state it can survive to reproduce in the following Olympic events for durability.
  • 17 years of complete dehydration
  • boiling for 3 hours at 106⁰ C
  • bathing in 100% ethanol for 17 hours
  • freezing at -190ºC for 77 hours.
Recently a cell line from the larva has been preserved after dehydration to 6% of residual moisture and kept for 251 days at room temperature.  When rehydrated it was able to resume swimming and proliferation, while its eggs, pupae and adults die in those same circumstances.  Sciencedirect.com

The secret to its success is a sugar called trehalose, as explained in this story in far more detail than I would even attempt.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Corn is for Popping

Squirrel at a feeder - hors d'oeuvres before hitting the bird feeder - REK
Winter is the time for popcorn and hot cornbread with butter and syrup. Some might even like a sip of a good distilled corn mash. Maybe even a bowl of corn flakes. But most important, corn isn't for wildlife, although a racoon in your fresh corn field might disagree.
Let's start with deer.  In Feeding corn to deer could be death sentence, a deer biologist and a veterinarian explain the problem.  For one thing, a deer's digestive tract is not designed to handle high carbohydrate loads.  In winter especially its bacteria and enzymes are tuned to a diet of woody vegetation and a load of corn in the gut acidifies it, killing off its normal bacteria and can lead to acidosis and death.

Winter time feeding isn't even necessary.  Jerry Feaser, a deer biologist, explains:
“By late fall, deer instinctively reduce their food intake and continue to do so through most of the winter,” Feaser says. “During that time deer rely heavily on fat reserves and their ability to conserve energy.  In fact, a 1984 Pennsylvania study found that deer could survive a least a month with no food at all. During winter, deer lose 20 percent or more of their body weight by burning fat reserves. They are well adapted to survive the many stresses that winter presents."

Feeding deer is never a good idea and in New York it is actually illegal.  It is actually banned in 29 Missouri counties.  Unlike putting out food plots where the deer are spread out browsing, a feeder concentrates individuals in close proximity which can increase the spread of disease like CWD and blue tongue as described by Jim Low of MDC.  You may also do Bambi a disservice in our area when hunters gather outside your gate, waiting to take their pick as deer movement becomes predictable.

What about squirrels?  We have fed squirrels corn in the past to keep them away from our bird feeders.  Yeah, like that is going to happen!  It turns out that field corn is not only not a good food for them but it can have a toxic mold.  Unless they are eating the siding of your house and your feeding them corn has ulterior motive, best not to do it.
Bears at the feeder - Texas.gov

Finally, deer feeders are rarely marked plainly enough to keep near-sighted bears away.  Most corn feeders are around your house so you can see visiting wildlife.  Encouraging a bear to come in for a free meal may be thrilling the first time but once they get addicted, the thrill is gone.  "A fed bear is a dead bear," is still true and you don't want the blood on your hands.

It is time to stop feeding wildlife which has managed to get along without us for hundred of thousands of years.  Birds, OK, when it doesn't attract bears in the wild.  I like seeing wildlife up close as much as you do.  But it just isn't worth the price. 

* Hunters will want to read this from Field and Stream.
Good News- Suburban living may reduce the risks of cancer and lung disease

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Green Bottle Flies


Bottle fly on the deck  - REK
I saw this green bottle fly on our deck last summer, not where I would usually expect to see it.  It is more commonly found on dead animals, sometimes swarming in an egg laying frenzy.  It is one of many species in the Calliphoridae family, known as blow flies, a term dating back to Shakespeare.  While not exactly warm and fuzzy insects, they play an important role in nature.

A few hours after laying out a dead rat - REK
They will arrive rapidly, usually the first insect to find a corpse.  Their association with dead animals is linked to anautogeny, the requirement of the female to feed on a particular meal before her eggs will become fertile, much as the female mosquito that feeds on us.  In the case of the blowfly, she gets the protein load needed to produce viable eggs and will begin laying eggs within two days.  This is convenient one-stop shopping as she then is able to place the eggs directly on the carcass that will feed her young larvae.
L. sericata on a dead wood rat - note larva behind wing-  REK
After emerging from the egg in 8 to 24 hours, the larvae will go through 3 instars in a predictable fashion.   The speed of growth and instar progression is temperature dependent.  As the maggot mass together, their salivary digestive enzymes break down tissue and the temperature in their vicinity can reach over 100⁰ F.   The predictable  progression of instars is a tool used by forensic entomologists to determine length of time a body has been dead.  In addition, in a closed crime scene, finding blow flies suggests that the body has been moved.

Life is not easy for a young maggot.  The competition for a dead body can be fierce.  When the larva isn't providing extra protein for scavengers such as vultures and coyotes, it is vulnerable to mites that are carried to the body by carrion beetles, thus eliminating competition to the beetles' larvae.  If it survives through the third instar, it will then crawl off into the soil to pupate.  I assume that if it is in a closed room with a tile floor it is out of luck.

Green Bottle Fly on a toothpick - REK
They have more than one role in nature.  Adults take nectar and have been used as pollinators of onions, cabbages, broccoli, kale, and also other Brassicaceae where they are more efficient that bees.  (Mothers, this is probably more science that you want to share with your children while getting them to eat their vegetables.)


L. sericata larvae  - Joseph Berger CC
Finally, the bottle fly larvae (medical maggots) were used in the Civil War to debride tissue from wounds and are still used occasionally today.  Since they only feed on dead tissue, medical maggots raised in a sterile environment can clean out inaccessible necrotic tissue, avoiding damage of opening a deep wound.  Their enzymes digest the dead tissue and stimulate granulation tissue for healing.

So what is not to love about Green Bottle Flies?  They return dead animals to the soil,  clean wounds and pollinate our vegetables.  Just forget what I said about kale.

More Green Bottle Fly details are here.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Beautiful Scat


Mark Bower sent me these pictures of a small piece of scat (poop for our 5th grade audience) that he found on a dead log about five feet above the ground. If you look closely you will understand why a mycological photographer would focus on this unusual subject. Like much of the world, if you move slowly and look closely, there is a lot of hidden beauty. The tiny hairs with yellow dots arising from the scat are pin molds (Mucorales), possibly Phycomyces blakesleeanus.

 Sporangiosphores of Phycomyces -  Mark Bower
The fungus genus Phycomyces is noted for its phototropism characteristics.  Phototropism refers to the growth of an organism in response to light.  This is best known in sunflowers whose stems and blossoms grow to face the sun.  The spore-bearing sporangiophores of Phycomyces are very sensitive to different environmental signals including light, gravity, wind, chemicals and adjacent objects. One of the most intriguing is its growth avoidance of solid objects.
"Phycomyces also exhibits an avoidance response, in which the growing sporangiophore avoids solid objects in its path, bending away from them without touching them, and then continuing to grow upward again. This is believed to result from an unidentified "avoidance gas" that is emitted by the growing zone of the sporangiophore. This gas would concentrate in the airspace between the Phycomyces and the object. This higher concentration would be detected by the side of the sporangiophore's growing zone, which would grow faster, causing the sporangiophore to bend away." Wikipedia
Mark explained: "I took the pictures on site at VWM. When I looked at them on the computer I was amazed. Went back this afternoon with a spatula and Tupperware to retrieve the poo. However, the water droplets were gone and the home photos were disappointing. Now I have unidentified poop in our kitchen." (Jan, like my wife is a very understanding woman. She would never be upset that he couldn't identify the species of the poo bearing creature.)  


Seed in scat - Bower
As a true scientist he broke it apart to learn more about the culprit which left the gift. The scat was three inches in diameter, dry and firm, and contained small seeds and a tiny piece of gravel inside.
  The only other clue was its placement on top of a stump or raised area.  This is a habit commonly seen with raccoons who apparently are as proud of their poo as our dog is, carefully placing it in a special place for reasons known only to it.  


Raccoons will frequently create a "latrine" where there is scat of various ages.  Whether this is for sanitation, territory marking or just pride is unknown.  If the chosen site for the gifts is around humans, careful cleaning is required.  Raccoons can carry a round worm (Baylisascaris procyonis) which can infect humans if they accidentally ingest the eggs.  The MU Extension has information on managing problem raccoons.


Looking for some light reading?  Try The Hidden Dangers of Botany, suggested by Christine Chiu.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Finding EAB in Winter

Stripping of ash bark by woodpeckers while seeking emerald ash borer larvae; this foraging damage is called “blonding.” Photo: Jennifer Forman Orth,MDAR
The Missouri Department of Conservation is looking for help from birdwatchers, hunters and others of us out in the woods in watching for signs of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).  EAB kills ash trees in the genus Fraxinus, which includes the commonly planted green ash and white ash.  It has been reported in 30 Missouri counties but none reported in Southwest Missouri so far.

You may have seen photographs of the typical small D-shaped hole the insect produces.  More dramatic are the tracks under the bark after the tree is dead.  Since EAB usually starts high up in the tree, these finds are hard to see.  Robbie Doerhoff, Forest Entomologist with MDC shared some more signs for bird watchers and other of us out in the woods to be looking for including "bark blonding," a new finding to me.  To quote Robbie:
"So, what is bark blonding? Woodpeckers searching for insect larvae inside trees often pop off the outer bark (see EAB website). On ash trees, this feeding activity reveals a white inner bark that is highly noticeable. Ash trees with bark blonding may not have EAB, but it is certainly worth reporting these trees for a closer look by trained foresters."



Ash bark blonding (L)

Woodpecker damage with blonding (R)









Ash bark - click to enlarge
However, first you need to be able to identify an ash tree, a little harder with the leaves off this time of year.  Look for gray to brown bark with interlacing corky ridges forming obvious diamonds.  Another clue, useful when looking for morels in the spring, is looking for trunks that split into two main branches10-20 feet above the ground.  Finally, look at the branches.  Ash tree branches are opposite like maple trees but with this more distinctive bark.

The Birdwatcher's Guide to Holes in Trees has more pictures and information.  If you find suspicious signs on an ash tree, report the tree locations using the online form at eab.missouri.edu. They are most interested in reports from new counties where EAB has not yet been found as shown on the map below.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Another Fuzzy Orange Gall



For some reason, when I saw this gall I immediately thought of the recent political campaign.  At a distance it looks like hair but close up (below) it is more fuzzy strands.  It was attached to the center vein of a white oak leaf.  I had recently written about Fuzzy Orange Galls and it didn't look like the spiky Callirhytis furva.

Not hair on closeup - definitely a leaf gall
I put the pictures on Bi-State Bugs and got a rapid response from Charley Eiseman who asked if it was on white oak.  Since it was, he explained "Then it is Andricus quercusflocciCallirhytis furva would only be on hosts in the red oak group."

Galls are identified by the species they appear on as well as their individual appearance.  Looking for information on the cynipid gall wasp C. furva contains is an exercise in frustration.  In this case, Bugguide references a 1911 book, California Gall-making Cynipidae: With Descriptions of New Species by Mary Isabel McCracken which you can download for free.  The description:
"Gall -  Brown elliptical, thin-walled, surface reticulate and covered with a rusty brown mat of fibers, two to many balls on a leaf, lying adjacent or strung along on the midrib, usually beginning at the base of the leaf, at least 1/2 mm in diameter.  Persistent, falling to the ground with the leaves in the fall.  Adults emerge in the breeding room in March."
Identification in 1911 required detailed descriptions compared to today when even a 5th grade WOLF student has a camera (now called a cellphone) to compare with pictures online and we can even send the question to a world-class expert with an answer in minutes.  Inaturalist and Project Noah can help you identify galls by pictures, and commercial photographers are happy to sell you their images for publication.  Mary Isabel McCracken would be so jealous.

Gall cut open - REK
Zipcodezoo.com has links and says that "More than 150 species and subspecies of Andricus have been described" but none of these describe or picture the little wasp that has no findable photos on the web. 

Somehow it is reassuring that in this day of instant information, Snapchat, Wikileaks, and the hacking of the Internet, this little wasp can remain photographically anonymous.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Liverworts Anonymous



Green things that grow on rocks usually raise the question "Is that moss?"  At that point we all look at each other and shrug.  Gala sent me these pictures from a late October trip described below.  A few days later Chris Barnhart sent me photographs of a liverwort and I decided to dive into the subject of which I know nothing.  First from Gala:
"Oct 27- Allan, Jennifer and I took a field trip to Peck Ranch in hopes of viewing elk. The day was beautiful and a warm 80°, perhaps too warm for critters to be out and about at mid-day ...no elk to be found. Regardless of the lack of elk sightings, we had a lovely day and decided to stop at a low water bridge and hike the stream bed. It was a losing stream with several remnant pools and a few sections of flowing water here and there. Among the fall leaves, we noticed the vibrant green of some interesting plants clinging to large rocks, we stopped for closer inspection. 
The plant looked a little "fern-like" but was close-growing on the rocks, not upright or loose. I pulled at the top of a "leaf" and discovered tiny "roots" attaching the plant to the rock itself. If you zoom in, it looks like interlocking scales or plates.  We took some photos for later identification, that's where Bob comes in...!"
I sent the photographs to Nels Holmberg for identification.  He responded that "This is Conocephalum salebrosum (formally Conocephalum conicum), the Great Scented Liverwort.  It is common along streams. And it does have a robust aroma."  Most of the information such as this detailed site is under the C. conicum name.

E. pardella moth - Wikipedia
It is also called the Common Mushroom-headed Liverwort, or Snakeskin Liverwort.  It gets its snakeskin name from the tiny hexagonal scale-like surface.  C salebrosum is the largest of the thalloid liverworts.  In the Pacific Northwest it is the host plant for the Epimartyria pardella moth.  The Conocephalum genus has two known species and a worldwide distribution. 
Day before the rain - Barnhart
A few days later Chris Barnhart sent me pictures of a liverwort outside his office.  There was a dramatic difference before and after a rain.  Nels Holmberg tentatively identified it as Asterella tenella, a thaloid liverwort which usually spreads out one plant deep.  Since this was in a thick pad he sent it on to the Missouri Botanical Garden where the ID was confirmed.

Day after a rain - Barnhart
A. tenella - Barnhart
When viewed close up, you can see the purple scales growing on the tips of the thalli.  This description, "Plants green with purplish undulate margins and purplish underside; branching dichotomous, rarely with intercalary branches" only gets more dense as it goes on.  This is a reminder that understanding bryophytes requires a whole new language.   

Even the the question "Is that moss?" can be complex.  The overall physical similarity of some mosses and leafy liverworts means that confirmation of the identification of some groups can be performed with certainty only with the aid of microscopy or an experienced bryologist.  Help is on the way when Nels comes to our March meeting.  Until then I will probably dabble around the edges rather than plunge deeply into the field of bryophytes.

An Introduction to Bryophytes

Friday, November 11, 2016

Nature for Fun

"Now this is fun"
From time to time I receive interesting stories about nature that are worthy of passing on, new discoveries or just for fun.  I will be adding some of these unrelated links at the bottom of future blogs.  There will be no extra charge for this feature.  Here is your starter dose.

Meet the Bird that Filled an Antenna With Acorns
Thanks to Shanholzer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Paulownia

A few years ago our neighbors brought us several gigantic leaves from a tree up on top of our hillside.  They wore them draped over their heads like huge sun hats.  This was our introduction to Paulownia, an Asian invasive species.  Barb isn't smiling, that is actually a grimace.

This is the Princess Tree or Empress Tree, Paulownia tomentosa, a tree that you can love and hate at the same time.  Let's start with the love.  It is planted as an ornamental in gardens and parks.  It was even awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in England.  It has large, colorful and fragrant flowers.

Paulownia flowers - Wikimedia
It is rapid growing, a pioneer plant adept at growing on barren ground.  Its massive leaves can enrich the soil and while it grows tall (35-80 feet) rapidly, it doesn't tolerate shade of the taller trees that in China will grow more slowly and eventually replace it.

There is now a growing market for Paulownia as a rapid growing soft wood that carves easily and can be used in plywood.  It is said to be strong and lightweight, "ideal" for surf boards and wooden boats.  It is also being touted as rapid growing carbon dioxide sink.  The sites selling it talk about the ease of the trees spreading and the fact that stakes cut from the stems readily root.  Can you spell invasive?

One year growth - click to enlarge

"Rapid growing" is like calling Moby Dick a big fish.  I cut the three trunks of our specimen last fall and was amazed to return this year and watch the growth.  The young trunks are flexible and hang in a curve with the weight of the leaves.  Richard Herman joined us and was able to pull the 12 foot high plant down for pictures.  The picture on the right is one of the trunks after we cut it off at ground level without spraying the stump last fall.  You can just make me out in the hat in the lower right hand corner.


The first few years Barb and I battled on the fate of the tree.  I wanted to leave it alone at least until we saw blossoms and fruit.  Barb wanted it cut and killed immediately.  We compromised on cutting it when it blossomed, while she told every visitor that saw the tree that when she died they had a sacred responsibility to come to our tree farm and cut it down in her memory.

This year in the spring the tree produced buds and she called in her debt.  With a heavy heart, I cut down the trunks and photographed the results.  The poor buds died before fulfilling their biological mission to "go forth and multiply."

Paulownia stems
Paulownia trunk












This did give me the opportunity to study the wood, which demonstrated how it can grow so rapidly.  In addition to being very soft and light weight, the young trunks are hollow in the center!  As you might expect, this rapid growth is at the expense of strength.  Two strokes of a hand held Silkey Saw halfway through the trunk and it broke off.  




The final question was how did this get into the middle of our timber stand, several miles from the nearest residential yard.  The answer lies in the tiny light weight winged seeds,  These can easily be spread by wind and water.  So are Paulownia trees good or bad?  As usual, the answer is "it depends."

5-14-2017  6 month update
We stored several of the cut 2" trunks in the garage for future use.  Last week one sprouted several sets of leaves.  As Bill Bryson* said, "Life just wants to be; but it doesn't want to be much."

* A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson

Monday, November 7, 2016

Bloodsucking Conenose

Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose - REK
I found this bug crawling along the ground in the gravel beside our well house.  I could tell it was in the Reduviidae Family of Assassin Bugs but had to rely on Bugguide to finally identify it.

Chilled after an hour in the refrigerator.  Do you have one in yours?  - REK
It goes by the catchy name of Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose (EBC) - Triatoma sanguisugaIt tends to live in nests of small mammals, especially the Eastern Wood Rat, Neotoma floridana that commonly dwells in the well house.  It is also said to feed on bed bugs and other insects.  What is not to love about this guy?

Still chilling out - REK
The answer is that it considers us mammals and can bite humans as well.  Consider its alternate common names, Big Bed Bug or Mexican Bed Bug.  They are also known as "Kissing Bugs" for their habit of biting humans usually on the mouth or around the eyes, leaving painful sores.  It gets worse.  They are also known to carry Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasitic protozoan that causes Chagas disease in humans in Latin America.  The only good news for us is that this doesn't occur here as it is spread by the insect's frass (poop) and the North American variety does not defecate while feeding,  This is probably more than you wanted to know.

The female carries her eggs until mating and then eats a blood meal before becoming fertile.  She then scatters them around where they will grow through eight instars over two years before maturity, each instar requiring a blood meal before each molt, a total life cycle of three years.  And we thought Dracula was thirsty.  They can find the blood from any mammal including rats, opossum, raccoons, and other wild critters.  Because they do not succumb to the bites, these animals can continue to serve as hosts.  We are not their prime target, just another mammal, you know.

Warming up to take off.  - REK
They have incomplete metamorphosis, each stage resembling somewhat the adults, lacking mainly wings and sexual maturity.  They are a fact of life, but fortunately, our Conenoses are continent, i.e. don't poop while feeding so they won't infect you.  The good news is you aren't likely to have them around you unless you have rats.  The bad news is that we have rat neighbors.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wireworms


The WOLF Students found these insect larvae while studying a rotting log.  These are large wireworms, the larvae of a click beetle.  They are a dramatic example of complete metamorphosis where the larva bears no resemblance to the adult.  They have the typical mouth parts and six legs but lack the shape and the wings of an adult.  Our wireworms spend a lot of time backing up which demonstrates the rigid way it holds its body in this video.

Head and thorax - dorsal view
Wireworm is a generic name for the larvae of all species of click beetles in the family Elateridae.  They have tough bodies like a crawdad, the abdomen hinged in 10 segments.  These were 45 cm long with a color pattern common to many species such as the Large Wireworms - Orthostethus infuscatus, but I will leave further identification to the experts.  Most wireworms are saprophagous, living on dead organisms, but some are predator of insect larvae.  Some species are agricultural pests of corn and other crops and they get most of the studies.

The most popular of the click beetles is the Eyed Elater, Alaus oculatus.  It is larger than most click beetles, almost two inches long and its distinctive appearance separates it from any
other beetle. The prominent false eyes on the beetle are presumed to be a defense against predators although no proof of this exists.  Its wireworm larvae are predators of larvae of wood boring beetles and flies.  They have two anal hooks which our specimens lack.  These wireworms and some other species spend 2-5 years as larvae in soil and rotting wood.

Click beetles are named for their ability to flex their body forward and snap a spine on the prosternum into a groove in the mesosternum, producing a violent "click" that can bounce the beetle into the air.  The description of this mechanism is still somewhat confusing to me but the beetle has it down pat.  When the beetle is on its back it is unable to right its self with its legs.  The "click" sends it up to 8" in the air but its landing on its feet is a random event out of its control so it may require several tries.  This also may be an effective way to escape predators.

If you run into an Eyed Elater, test its click out.  Holding the abdomen will frequently get it to click repeatedly.  Putting it on its back should get it to jump as in this video.  If annoyed enough it may fly away but it is slow, awkward and seldom goes very far.  Then let it go to do its good work, producing more wireworms.

Most comprehensive source of the Eyed Elater is at this site.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

“A Puffball is a Puffball is a Puffball”

Puffing Puffball - Mark Bower
Story and photographs by Mark Bower 

Not all puffballs are created equal. It turns out that there are a wide variety of fungi called puffballs which have adopted the strategy of forming their spores within a spherical case, and subsequently releasing the spores when the case ruptures. Some of the puffballs are closely related to gilled mushrooms (for example Lycoperdon and Calvatia), and some are related to the Boletes (Earthballs). Others are even more distant taxonomically, especially if you consider truffles to be in the “Puffball” category.

Here are a few examples of puffballs found locally:

These are young Stump Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme). As they age they
will lose their spines and become the smooth, whitish puffballs which grow
gregariously on dead logs. Their clustered habit earns them the title “Bananas
of the Fungal Kingdom”. Bob Kipfer described these in his recent blog post.
He mentioned the fact that “Lycoperdon” means “wolf fart”; one wonders who
had the inclination to sit behind a wolf and experience this event.

This is the “Gem-Studded Puffball” (Lycoperdon perlatum). I think it is virtually
identical to L. pyriforme, but it grows on the ground, not on wood. By the way,
it is fun to make puffballs “puff”, but I wouldn’t recommend inhaling too many
of the spores. They have been known to germinate in lung tissue!

Here are the two “Spiny Puffballs” found in this area, Lycoperdon echinatum (top photo) and L. pulcherrimum (on the right). When young, they display elegant spines on the surface which join together at their tips.



The “Brain Puffball” (Calvatia craniiformis) is most likely to be found lurking in
your yard than in the forest.

Earthstars (pictured is Geastrum saccatum) are little puffballs which are
enveloped by a tough outer layer which splits and opens up to form a star-like
structure.

Pseudoboletus parasiticus parasitizing Scleroderma  - Wikimedia
Earthball, Scleroderma-
Earthballs are weird little things that superficially resemble the more common
puffballs, but they have a much tougher “skin”. Pictured is Scleroderma (“hard
skin”) aerolatum. They are considered poisonous, but probably not deadly.
Interestingly, a Bolete named Pseudoboletus parasiticus which is closely related to Scleroderma specifically parasitizes Scleroderma sp. as seen above..

Lastly, we have to include the “Deer Truffle” (Elaphomyces granulatus), which
is the round structure in the photo. Truffles (in this case, a “false truffle”) grow
underground. This one was located by finding the mushroom which
parasitizes it, Tolypocladium longisegmentum.