Friday, January 25, 2019

Glowing Mushrooms

Mark Bower sent me these pictures of bioluminescent mushrooms, something that each of us has been trying to see for years. I can remember standing in a dark bathroom on two occasions with a number of other people waiting for our eyes to adjust to the dark and eventually giving up when there was no glow.  Below is his story.

Mark Bower
I collected these Bitter Oysterling mushrooms, Panellus stipticus, a very common species in this area. It can be found year-round growing in groups on dead hardwood, as it is a decomposer. From the top it looks like many other small, boring brownish fungi. The undersurface is slightly more interesting, and is characterized by gills which terminate abruptly where they meet the small knobby stem. They also have cross veins which are easily seen in the mature specimen below. 

This mushroom is known to be bioluminescent, although I was skeptical, since I had wasted many hours sitting alone in a dark closet staring at and trying to photograph these things, without success.  When I tried this time I was shocked to see a greenish glow emanating from the little fungi. I became apoplectic when an image actually appeared on my camera. 

I’m still experimenting, but I believe the essential ingredients in photographing bioluminescent fungi are: 1) total darkness 2) long exposure time (30 seconds in this case), which requires a tripod 3) wide open aperture 4) very high ISO (as high as your camera goes). The other essential point is that not all of them glow, even ones growing in the same cluster.

The Bitter Oysterling (British origin) contains an astringent which constricts tissues and definitely makes you “pucker” if you taste it. It also can stop minor bleeding since it constricts blood vessels. The species name P. stipticus refers to this anti-bleeding property. Some may remember the styptic pencils we used to stop bleeding when we lacerated our faces while shaving.
Back to Springfield Plateau

Of the 100,000+ documented fungal species, only 71 are known to exhibit this luminescence.  So why had this trait evolved?  Mark sent me this research article from Current Biology on bioluminescent fungi that throws even more light on the subject.

and his associates studied a Brazilian species and found that the bioluminescence from the mycelium of Neonothopanus gardneri is controlled by a temperature-compensated circadian clock.  This would conserve the energy needed to produce produce the luciferase, reductase, and luciferin that create the luminescence.  The chemistry is described in the video at this link.

Now the question was why had it evolved this complex on and off cycle and here is where it gets cool. They created "prosthetic acrylic resin ‘‘mushrooms,’’ internally illuminated by a green LED emitting light similar to the bioluminescence of N. gardneri and an identical set without the LED lighting.  They found the "bioluminescent" mushrooms attract staphilinid rove beetles (coleopterans), as well as hemipterans (true bugs), dipterans (flies), and hymenopterans (wasps and ants), at numbers far greater than dark control traps.

They postulate that the circadian control may have evolved to optimize energy use for when bioluminescence is most visible, attracting insects that can in turn help in spore dispersal, thereby benefiting fungi growing under the forest canopy, where wind flow is greatly reduced.  So it all comes down to reproduction for this species although not all glowing species attract insects.  Stay tuned for more research.

Still curious?  Check out 10 Cool Facts About Bioluminescent Mushrooms (and Where to Find Them).

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Blister Beetle

Courtney sent me this photograph of another porch find.  She said "I gave this critter a little push so I could get into better light for pictures and it curled up on its side and secreted some kind of smelly amber liquid from all its leg joints. I included a picture of that too."  She sent it to Inaturalist where she got an ID as a Meloe oil beetle.   This is the American oil beetle, Meloe americanus.

This is a very distinctive beetle.  The abdomen has the appearance of overlapping plates that are somewhat flexible.  It is iridescent and somewhat bumpy.  The elytra (wing covers) are small and there are no wings under them so the beetle is limited to walking around.  It can be found slowly wandering on flowers.

Oil or blister beetle - C. Reese

The name "oil beetle" comes from the amber liquid it secretes from its leg joints when disturbed.  Another name for the Meloidae family is "blister beetles."  This is because the secretions are not only smelly but caustic, capable of causing skin blisters.  The active ingredient is cantharidin, a chemical that has been used medically to burn off warts which then heal without scarring.  It can be fatal when consumed by livestock and has had a lot of other uses in history including one that we won't go into in a family friendly blog.*

This was enough information, but wandering into the Meloe sp. beetles' fascinating life cycle led me down into a "rabbit hole" for several hours.  "Going down a rabbit hole" is a family affliction for us, "Googling" and following hot links to information we didn't know we needed to know.
"Going down a rabbit hole"  -  To enter into a situation or begin a process or journey that is particularly strange, problematic, difficult, complex, or chaotic, especially one that becomes increasingly so as it develops or unfolds. (An allusion to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.)
The female Meloi beetle lays her eggs on the ground under flowers.  The larvae that hatch will go through several generations before adulthood, the first called the triungulin.
"First-instar larvae climb to the top of a plant as a group, clump together in the shape of a female solitary ground bee, exude a scent (pheromone) imitating the female bee pheromone. When a male bee comes and tries to mate with the clump of larvae, some of these clamp onto his hairs and eventually get to female bees when he mates for real. Impregnated female bees fly off and build nests in burrows; triungulins move to the new nests and feed on honey and pollen stocked by the bee for her own young."

Meloe beetle's stages of life -  Wikipedia
 Meloe larvae on a bee -Wikipedia

The act of hitching a ride on another species is called phoresy.  This is commonly seen on beetles which have mites clinging on them.  Generally thiA s causes no harm to the beetle and in some cases is of benefit (mutualism).  Bess beetles routinely carry mites into their rotten log homes.  Carrion beetles frequently have phoretic mites that will eat the eggs and larvae of flies that compete with the beetles young for dead animals.   

OK, that is way TMI.  I am off to find another rabbit hole.

* More on Canthandrin at this site.
More on their family plan at
A more recent study from 2018 shows that the pheromones are specific for the bees of different regions.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Fungus Gnat on Butternut.

Mark Bower found some butternuts at the base of the hillside but we have never found the tree.  Butternuts are also called white walnuts, Juglans cinerea, a reference to the color of their wood.  They grow in the Eastern United States, and we are at the very western edge of their range.    They tend to grow in small numbers along water and well drained slopes and the only one we have found in the past was a blow down across a trail.  We decided to plant some of the nuts along the creek.  Since they don't tolerate shade well, a barren riparian border should be perfect.

Fungus gnat larva with mycelia, walnut husk fly larva and unknown brown pupa cases.
These butternuts had been down a while and their husks were starting to blacken.  While inspecting one of them,  I found some tiny 2-3mm hair-like strands that I mistook for fungal mycelia until under magnification I saw that they moved as seen in this video.  I showed them to Chris Barnhart and he identified them as "fungal" all right, but actually the larvae of the fungus gnat.

Technically walnuts are not nuts but are classified as a drupe because of the fleshy covering on a hard pit or stone.  Other flowering plants classified as drupe producers include the almond, cherry, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum and our beloved coffee.   Like our common black walnuts, the product we treasure is not the flesh but the nut inside.  As the flesh breaks down, fungal hyphae frequently contribute to the disintegration, providing a home for the fungus gnat.

Sciarcidae - 2mm long + antennae
Like so many interesting tiny critters we find, this larva is a fungus gnat, destined to Google obscurity by its predominate links to "How do you get rid of fungus gnat larvae?" when I am trying to find more about its interesting lifestyle in soil and rotting debris.  Most are a few millimeters long and get no respect, like fungi and the things that eat them.  Without them we would be miles deep in dead and dying plants and trees!  Wikipedia to the rescue!

Most fungus gnats occur as larvae feeding on fungi in the soil, emerging as adults to walk around and weakly fly on occasion.  They carry mushroom spores and are incidental pollinators.  A few species of larva are predatory, killing small invertebrates with an acid fluid (mostly oxalic acid) secreted by labial glands.

The gnats occasional bother us larger bipeds by flying in our faces and they may be confused with bathroom flies.  Numbers of them in your house may indicate over watering of house plants.  As you might expect, there are a number of toxins developed for their elimination in greenhouses.

Most organisms tolerate winter by either freezing (with the help of antifreeze chemicals they produce) or avoiding it.  Some fungus gnats produce antifreeze proteins but Excechia nugatoria  has it both ways.  The head and thorax are protected by the production of (your new word of the day) noncolligative antifreeze proteins (NAPs) while the abdomen freezes, thus reducing evaporative water loss.  How cool is that!

Fungus gnat larval procession
Finally, here is a video from Thailand of a procession of larvae forming a column.  This is a rare occurrence but when found the people keep the larva at the head of the column as the "King Worm" for good luck (theirs, not the larva's).

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Blood Moon in Springfield

There is a complete lunar eclipse occurring on Sunday night, January 20, which will produce a "blood moon" explained here in Vox. Details of the time and location is at this link, Eclipse in Springfield. To save you some time, here are the details you need to know.

In Springfield, Missouri the visible eclipse will begin at around 9:35 PM in the sky due east at 38 degrees above the horizon, (90 degrees is straight overhead).  See the chart below for graphic description. 
  • Total eclipse starts at 10:43PM 
  • Maximum 11:12 with the moon in the southeast at 70 degrees
  • Total eclipse ends at 11:43 PM
  • Eclipse ends at 12:50


Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Macomb County Fatberg
David Casaletto just posted an Ozarks Water Watch newsletter about fatbergs and wipe mountains in our sewers.  I was much happier when I hadn't heard of them but I thought I might share it with you (after dinner) as well. 

Not to be confused with fatburgers found in fast food restaurants, these "fatbergs" are masses of fats that congeal when they are flushed down sewers.  Add a few non-flushables such as condoms, sanitary napkins and plastics and you have the makings of an underground island.  Smooth pipes have less of a problem with fat than rough walled pipes which slow the flow and create turbulence, increasing the likelihood of a berg forming.  As you might expect, London and older English cities are especially plagued.  A 2013 fatberg in London described in Wikipedia weighed 17 tons and was the size of a bus but there are even bigger ones since then.

Canadian scientists have discovered an extremely efficient way to convert the ‘bergs' into methane biofuel. "By heating the fatbergs to between 90 and 110 degrees Celsius and then adding hydrogen peroxide to break down the organic matter, you produce a product that bacteria can then slurp up. These bacteria create methane, also known as natural gas."  Cows have been creating methane for thousands of years but apparently the scientists couldn't entice the bovine community to enter the sewers with them.
"Yuck, fatbergs!"  -  The Richest

Getting a cow into a sewer isn't unheard of. The Richest shows this cow among its 15th Strangest Things found in a sewer.  They don't report if it was surviving on fatbergs but they did get it out safely.  If you are weird enough to look at all 15 of them I will never tell.

Flushable wipes in Fargo
Setting aside the trivia, David makes a good point that just because something is advertised as "flushable" doesn't mean that you should flush it.  This video from Consumer Reports demonstrates how tough these "flushable" wipes are.  Even facial tissues like Kleenex aren't made to break down in the toilet.  The bottom line, only flush what comes from you and the toilet tissue you use to clean up.  Now aren't you glad you are through with this blog?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Cute Little Stinker

First, Mark Bower sent me this photograph of a slime mold.  He has a knack for finding beauty in slime molds but this one is rather boring until you find the spider.  Click to enlarge the image and join the search.  The answer is at the bottom of the page.

Clathrus ruber -Mike Hall
Meanwhile, I received this photograph from Mike Hall in California.  This is a fungus which mimics a spray painted wiffle ball.  Mark Bower provided me this link to the Clathrus ruber.  It is native to Turkey and Europe but has been introduced by human activity to North and South America, probably in mulch with other plants.

Devil's Stinkhorn-Phallus rubicundus-MB
This is a colorful way to introduce the subject of the stinkhorn fungi in the family Phallaceae.  The name derives from the Greek phallos which means.....well since this is a family blog let's just say most of the members are finger shaped.  Stinkhorn mushrooms come by their name honestly, as when they age they produce an odor that would gag a maggot.  The odor, typically described as like carrion or dung, is produced by the sticky mass of spores (gleba) located on the end of a finger-like stalk called the receptaculum.

Stinkhorns first emerge from the soil from a round structure referred to as an egg.  A few species are star or lattice shaped but all I have seen in Missouri are on a single stalk. 

This Lysurus periphragmoides emerged from.....

.... this "egg"  - Mark Bower

Mutinus elegans or caninus - MB

“Stinky Squid” (Pseudocolus fuciformis)-MB

Unlike most fungi whose spores drop from gills or pores, stinkhorns' spores are in the gelatenous gleba at the tip.  The foul odor attracts flies, beetles and other insects which pick up the spores on their feet and haul them off to other fertile sites.

Our Clathrus ruber has a colorful history described in Wikipedia.  This includes finding it growing on "a human skull in a tomb in a deserted church" and several poisonings when eaten in spite of the odor.  Apparently there are places in Asia and Europe where stinkhorns are considered delicacies when they are picked in the egg state and sold pickled as deviled eggs.  As my mother used to say, "Each to his own taste the woman said as she kissed her cow."

Now back to the spider test up at the top of the page.  Find the little yellow arrow below and then see the spider closeup.

And here it is.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Schoolcraft in the Ozarks

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft hiked down Bull Creek on January 6th, 1819, the first person to write a description of the Ozarks landscape.  He repeated the trip 200 years later to the day in the person of Rick Mansfield as described in this News-Leader story.  I had met him this summer at Round Spring where I was reenacting Henry for school groups and invited him down to the creek.

Here is the back story.  I first got interested in Schoolcraft from reading his journal in the late 1990s.  Then a friend of mine roped me into doing a reenactment of him for a history group.  The last ten years I have done these occasionally and then business picked up with the bicentennial of his travels and his journal that was published in 1821.  Never accused of brevity, Schoolcraft titled his book  Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw, from Potosi, or Mine a Burton, in Missouri Territory, in a South-West Direction, toward the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1818 and 1819. 

Around 10 years ago it dawned on me that his January 6, 1819 journal entry sounded just like our valley at Bull Mills.  (See this link to his January 6th journal entry. )  Recently this was confirmed by a study by Jack Ray (MSU Archeology) and Curtis Copeland, a local amateur historian and GIS mapper.  Above is their map of his journey that day with our property outlined in the upside down purple "L".

Bull Creek - Click to enlarge
We spent two evenings with "Rick" Schoolcraft, regaled with the adventures of his life, stories that would have made the original Henry proud.  He has hiked several hundred miles of what we can reconstruct as Schoolcraft's route, albeit many of them now paved.  Those changes are all part of the message in Journal of a Tour.  I would encourage you to read his journal which is available on line here.
Update - February 6, 2019
Rick "Schoolcraft" celebrated his return to Potosi on February 4, 2019, 200 years to the day.  Three "Henry's" gathered to have a small round table discussion before setting off for the final walk to Moses Austin's store site for the return finale.
Three Henrys- Bob Kipfer, Rick Mansfield and Eric Fuller
Arriving at the Austin store, February 4, 2019