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.

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