Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fetid Mushroom!

Mark Bower dropped by at Bull Mills to visit and spotted these little mushrooms on a dead hollow log by the front door.  We had an unexpected shower earlier that caught me outside and unprepared and the mushrooms hadn't been there when checked the rain gauge by the log 2 hours earlier.  How did they shoot up that fast?  Read on.

Mark identified them as the fetid parachute, Gymnopus foetidus. Now I am not a mycologist but even I know that calling something fetid is not a good start for a relationship.  They fit the description with caps that were 1-2 cm wide, reddish-brown in color with a sunken navel-like center and reddish-brown striations extending to the pleated margin.

Mark insisted that I sniff one up close.  I recalled a hike in the past when he wanted me to try tasting a mushroom that was "very bitter." After I declined repeatedly, he tasted it and spend the next few minutes spitting, wiping his tongue and saying "That was awful!"  This time I did give it a little sniff and fetid pretty well sums it up.

To me the amazing story was how fast they had appeared!  He had told me about the overnight appearance of morels that most of us have experienced.  I asked him to write out the explanation below.  This is a bit of fascinating science so stick with us for a few minutes.

Phallus impudicus - Mark Bower
(Mark Bower)
Many mushrooms do pop up in less than 24 hours. I think the fastest are the stinkhorns. Phallus impudicus, (the star of my stinkhorn movie) only took about 3 hours to grow to about 13 cm. The inky caps are also very fast growers (shaggy mane, hare’s foot inky cap, alcohol inky, etc.) which will arise overnight.

Mushrooming up over night? If the body is spread out and microscopic, how do mushrooms grow so quickly? There are two basic reasons: 1) Since they store up compounds between fruiting and most fruit once a year, they have a lot of reserve available to support the mushroom. 2) Mushrooms develop differently than plants or animals do. Plants and animals grow through cell division - to get bigger they have to produce more cells. Cell division is relatively slow and requires a lot of energy. The mushroom body also grows by cell division. However, the mushroom fruit does not grow by cell division. Just about as soon as it starts to develop, a mushroom has almost the same number of cells that the mature mushroom will have. The mushroom increases in size through cell ENLARGEMENT! This means that the cells can balloon up very rapidly. Very little energy is required, basically the cells just enlarge with water. So a mushroom can increase in size as fast as water can be pumped into its cells. Almost overnight a mushroom can go from a pin head to a large mushroom.,

The Fruiting Bodies
Some mycorrhizal fungi types (specifically, ectomycorrhizal fungi) form mushrooms, the specialized fruiting bodies that play a role similar to that of flowers in plants. Mushrooms can grow below the soil, as do truffles, or above, as do morels. Their caps can be gilled or nongilled. Some have economic and gastronomic value, such as porcinis and chanterelles. Not all mycorrhizal fungi produce mushrooms, although all mushrooms are fungi.

Mushrooms are typically the part of the fungus that carries and disperses fungal spores, usually through sporangia (sporangium, singular), the enclosures in which the spores are formed. Each tiny spore released from a sporangium gives rise to a hypha, which branches and grows into hyphae, which then continue to grow and interweave to form a mycelial web.

Sometimes the hyphae form rhizomorphs, structures that transport water and nutrients throughout the network. This occurs when parallel hyphae merge. The inner hyphae lose their nuclei and cytoplasm, becoming hollow.

Merging hyphae also form fruiting bodies as a result of hyphae growing together. Specifically, two homokaryotic fungal hyphae (each with genetically identical nuclei) merge cytoplasm, but keep their nuclei separate, to form a dikaryotic hypha. Every time the cell divides, the new cells keep the two sets of haploid nuclei separate.

At the appropriate time, given some cue from nature, some environmental condition stimulates the fungus, and signals are created in the circulating cytoplasm, which cause the hyphae to merge and form a primordium, a tiny knot in the mycelia. This primordium includes all the cells the mushroom will ever have. It enlarges into a tiny budlike structure, or button, which will grow into a full-size mushroom.

All a mushroom requires is water to fill the cells. The mushroom can rapidly pull in water from its mycelium and expand the primordium. It can take less than 24 hours for a primordium to fill and grow; this is why mushrooms can pop up so quickly. Mushrooms have outer membranes, or veils, that dehydrate rapidly, so they usually appear only when temperature and moisture conditions are right. Those hydrophobins are working full time.

Now that science lesson didn't hurt, did  it?  Well maybe just a little, but  congratulations, you made it!  There will not be a quiz.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Picture-winged Fly

Delphinia picta loves Toyota trucks - REK
I have been seeing these small flies sitting on my pickup truck in the late evening.  I can't figure out why they are drawn to this surface although my wife suggests that they are attracted to dirt and grunge.  Ignoring her smarmy remark, I identified them as the common picture-winged fly, Delphinia pictaThe MDC Field Guide describes its head as having "...a remarkably large snout that makes the face look like an old-style gas mask."

  Reiner Jakubowski - CC
Love that petiole - John Lampkin
D. pictus is the lone member of the Delphinia genus.  It is found on rotting fruit and decaying vegetable matter, strengthening my wife's theory.  It is frequently confused with fruit flies but is not known to feed on any intact healthy fruit. 

The adults live up to 40 days.  They mate on the second day after emerging from the pupa, and presumably spend the following weeks in fond remembrance of their mating ritual as described in Wikipedia.  In the words of John Lampkin's photograph, "These flies suggest that it's worth a shot to try mating upside down wearing gas masks."
"The female will wave her wings gently and a male will respond by flicking his wings before copulation.  Courtship may also include one or more of the partners blowing a bubble from their mouth."
D. pictus - Lloyd Davidson CC
After that, life gets pretty mundane for D. pictus.  The female lays up to 500 eggs on decaying plant matter.  The larvae that hatch will go through 3 instars over 21 days before pupating.  I looked for a larval picture in the web in vain but in the search stumbled on a beautiful choreographed D. pictus dance routine on a beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, filmed by our own Master Naturalist videographer Linda Bower!  This Youtube video is a must see.
John Lampkin has Missouri roots, now a practicing "citizen naturalist" in Florida.
Linda Bower's fantastic videos are at Nature in Motion.

Editor's note:  Rewatch Linda's video and admire the beautyberry too. It's one of my favorite native shrubs.  You may yearn for one or more for your yard.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Caterpillar Care

Great Spangled Fritillary - MDC Discover Nature
There is a lot of work that goes into the Bill Roston Butterfly House even before the season opens.  Chris and Deb Barnhart are busy raising native butterflies from the eggs on.  They have approximately 1,000 including Great Spangled Fritillaries and four swallowtail species.  I asked them to describe the process for us.

Chris and Deb:
Do you remember the I Love Lucy episode where she is working at a conveyor with chocolates?  Well, raising 500 + Great Spangled Fritillary (GSF) butterfly caterpillars is a lot like that episode.

We set up new boxes with violets and transfer the caterpillars from the soiled box. We repeat this about 59 times a day. Interspersed with washing boxes and lids-drying them. Taking leaf scraps, frass and used tissues and coffee filters to the trash. A trash bag is walked to the garbage bin a few times each day. All of this is interspersed with trips into the woods for more violets! Be sure to see this 20 second video clip that says it all.

Meanwhile, Charley Burwick shared this picture below of his biggest GSF from a recent birding trip.  He insists he didn't Photoshop it.  I can't argue with a Conservationist of the Year.

The Bill Roston Butterfly House at the Springfield Botanical Gardens opens for the year on Saturday, May 18th at 9AM.  In addition you can visit the Native Plant Market which includes education booths and programs.  For details, click here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Out of the Eggs

In the last blog, Difficult Delivery, we saw a wind battered pipevine swallowtail struggle to put all her eggs clustered together on one leaf petiole.  I decided to follow their course through larva-hood, a dangerous time.

Egg clusters only on this petiole
On the pipevine plant sprawling on the fence, there were now 4 leaves with 10-12 eggs each, all on the very bottom strand of leaves as seen above.  This isolated location exposed to potential predators puzzled me until I read that they lay their eggs in clusters on leaves exposed to sunlight.  With our nighttime temperature dropping into the 40s, the need for a sun warmed leaf makes more sense.

 One of the original clusters had already hatched and there was no remaining evidence of the eggs.  The first instar caterpillars are initially gregarious for reasons that only they know.  The caterpillars were bunched together on a nearby leaf, apparently full from their enriched egg shell meal and not yet ready to chow down on a leaf.

On a nearby leaf petiole, a group of first instars which had eaten their way out of the eggs watched as the last hatchling was still chewing on an egg shell.  As mentioned in the last blog, the females add nutritious knobs on the outside of the eggs, giving the young cats a head start before they become vegetarians.  You can see some of the action in this video.

I returned to an egg cluster an hour later to try and get better photographs and found a new visitor.  This is a green lacewing larva, Chrysopa oculata, which is chowing down on the egg cluster.  It was sucking out the juices so there wasn't anything to video unless it was making a faint slurping sound like working on the last of a milk shake.  You can see a little dark drop that doesn't bid well for the egg.

  "My, what big jaws you have." - Harvey Schmidt

The larvae are called “aphid lions” as they can consume over 200 aphids per week.  They are predators of a wide variety of soft-bodied insects and mites, including insect eggs and small caterpillars.  They have oversized sickle-shaped jaws that  can inject prey with a paralyzing venom and then suck out the body fluids. 

Green lacewing species - Jon Rapp
Lacewing Eggs - John Meyer
In this previous blog we discussed green lacewings and their eggs which dangle on fine strings.  It included graphic scenes of violence against aphids and I know what would be in store for these swallowtail eggs.  Most of these eggs will become victims of the food web with an occasional one surviving to mate and reproduce.

Now I am invested in these eggs and I feel a parental obligation for their safety, the result of my excessive levels anthropomorphism.  I used a blade of grass to push the lacewing larva off onto the ground. It may make its way back up the stem but at least I gave it a fighting chance.
Harvey Schmidt has a great set of Lacewing photographs here

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Difficult Delivery

"Hey, a little privacy here!"
PVST egg cluster-day one - REK
I spotted this pipevine swallowtail (PVST) desperately hanging onto a vine in gusts of heavy wind.  She was flailing about while struggling to get the tip of her abdomen into contact with the vein of a leaf.  There were 7 eggs stacked on it and she was trying to glue on number 8.  I took this video of her struggles and the next morning I returned and found 12 eggs on the leaf and another 12 on the petiole of a nearby leaf.

Dutchman's pipe flower - A. tomentosa - REK
The pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, is a beautiful butterfly that can be easily confused with the other "black swallowtails," the spicebush ST, black ST and the occasional dark phase of the tiger ST.  As the name suggests, their obligate host plants are plants in the genus Aristolochia, or pipevines.  Our backyard plantings are woolly dutchman’s pipe, Aristolochia tomentosa.

Nutrition bumps - Donald Hall

This butterfly's desperate attempts to lay her eggs in a cluster is a biological trait for this species.  The caterpillars that emerge are gregarious early on, and will get their first meal from the egg shell which contains drops of hard nutritious secretions in rows on the outside of the shell.  The female produces these secretions from a large specialized gland that lies above her ovipositor duct, like delivering a baby with a bottle by its side.  Later instars will separate, avoiding competition for food sources.

First instar feast - Donald Hall, U Florida

Early instars - REK
Soon the young caterpillars spread out, hiding in the dense clusters of pipevine leaves.  The later instars develop orange bumps that may be an aposematic advertisement, warning potential predators to look elsewhere for a meal.  The Aristolochia host plants provide them with aristolochic acids which are distasteful and even toxic to some predators.

Final Instar - REK

How it all begins - Gala Keller

The University of Florida Creatures pages at are a fantastic resource for their Featured Creatures, and a special thanks to Donald Hall for letting me use his photographs.