Monday, 16 October 2017

The force awakens …

Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex)







Although an infrequent and rather localised species, G. triplex is probably the most commonly found of the British Geastrum species.

Initially appearing as a part-buried ball with a prominent beak, the mature fruiting body eventually comprises of an outer star, an inner saucer-like collar (sometimes), and a central spore sac. The onion-shaped fruitbody splits open at maturity and 5 to 8 creamy-buff outer rays fold back, splitting to sometimes leave a fleshy collar as the remainder of each ray folds downwards and the tips curl partway under the body. A pointed hole, known as a peristome, situated on top of the sac releases spores when the wind blows across it or raindrops impinge upon its surface. The sides of the peristome are fibrous and appear rather ragged but not regularly striate. A fuzzy ring surrounds the peristome, which is slightly paler fawn-brown than the rest of the outer surface of the spore-sac.

With their extraterrestrial appearance members of the Geastraceae are always a pleasure to find …

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 440, fig. p. 441.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 305.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 335, figs. f and g.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 270, fig. p. 271.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Helvella …

Felt Saddle (Helvella macropus)


A somewhat uncommon find, probably exacerbated by its form and rather drab and discreet colouring, H. macropus is nevertheless widespread across Britain and Ireland. It is one of several 'saddle fungi' that appear in forests, particularly beside footpaths. The mature fruiting bodies, as pictured above, appear as shallow cups perched on delicate stems. Like their close relatives the morels, saddle fungi may have the capacity to form mycorrhizal relationships with woodland trees, but it is also clear that they can live as saprobes, feeding on woody debris.

Ebernoe Common is well recorded for fungi so it was nice to add a new species to the reserve list. My thanks to Ann for pointing me in the right direction …

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 604, fig. p. 605.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 310, fig. p. 311.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sweet smell of decay …

Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)










P. impudicus is the commonest of the British stinkhorns, with a smell that is typically detected long before the fungus is actually found. However, detecting their pungent odour does not necessarily guarantee finding them - though following your nose will often reap rewards. They are saprobic and usually gregarious; so where you find one you will often find others.

The ‘eggs’ can be found at any time of year but they usually lie dormant until the summer months. Within the egg the fruitbody develops. In the above picture of a dissected egg the stipe material is in the central column and the olive-green gleba, which bears the spores, surrounds it. The developing raised honeycomb structure of the cap beneath the gleba is also visible. As soon as the cap emerges from the egg, insects, attracted by the putrid odour, are drawn to it and eat the gelatinous gleba exposing the raised honeycomb structure. Some of the gleba adheres to the legs of insects and this is how the spores get carried from one location to another.

To find specimens in pristine condition you ideally need to visit suitable locations at dawn, as nasal senses are heightened and before their devourers have discovered the phallus-shaped newborns that have erupted from their embryonic form during the night.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 446, fig. p. 447.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 302.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 338, fig. a.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 244, fig. p. 245.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

20,000 leagues …

Anemone or Starfish Stinkhorn (Aseroë rubra)








The aptly named Anemone or Starfish Stinkhorn Aseröe rubra is arguably the most striking of all stinkhorn species found in Britain. It is a non-native species, having been first imported to England from Australia, probably via the Netherlands, in around 1829, when it was first observed in Kew Gardens, in Surrey. To date, 2017, all other known recorded sightings in Britain have been from a few closely linked locations in the county of Surrey. A. rubra remains a restricted and very rare find in Britain. Fairly common in parts of southeast Australia, A. rubra occurs as a native species in Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa and on several isolated islands in the Pacific. From its natural habitat it appears to have travelled to other parts of the world in garden or soil related products.

Like the other members of the Clathraceae, A. rubra emerges from a partly buried, gelatinous, egg-shaped, volva. As the ‘egg’ ruptures, its delicate, pinkish, cylindrical stem rises and expands from which 5-11 starfish-like red arms extend outwards from a flattened central platform coated with a sticky, dark greenish-brown gleba [fleshy spore-bearing mass of certain fungi]; designed to attract flies which are the principal agents of spore dispersal.

My thanks to Nick Aplin for the above photomicrograph showing the oval-shaped basidiospores.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 448, fig. p. 449.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 303.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 339, fig. e.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 244, fig. p. 245.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Beauty and the beech …

Another world ...


Although their appearance might suggest that slime moulds are fungi, they are neither fungi nor moulds; though they often form spore-bearing structures that resemble those of true fungi. Most slime moulds are generally deemed by taxonomists to be protists; the oddities of the natural world that don't seem to fit in with the rest of our global taxonomic grouping system - though this classification is still open to some debate.

Although
 many species fruit on decaying wood, they do not form penetrating and absorptive masses of hyphae in the woody
 substrate. Instead, slime moulds form structures called
 plasmodia, which are naked [i.e. without cell walls] masses of 
protoplasm [a colourless material comprising the living part of a cell], which can move about and engulf particles, in an 
amoeboid-like manner, in order to maximize the nutrients they can draw from their food source. The plasmodia creep about over 
the surfaces of resources, consuming bacteria, fungal spores, plants, protozoa, and small particles of non-living organic
 matter. When conditions become unfavorable the plasmodia convert into spore-bearing structures known as sporangia [clusters of spores]. Spores from the sporangia are then dispersed to new habitats and the life cycle begins once again. The young sporangia, of what I believe to be Tubulifera arachnoidea, formerly Stemonitis ferruginosa, is pictured above living on a heavily decayed beech tree; this particular mass having a diameter of no more than 10mm.

Slime moulds are strange and wonderfully varied in appearance. When magnified through the eye of a macro lens another world is entered …

References:

O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, pp.78-79.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 334-335.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Alien invader (revisited) …

Devil’s Fingers (Clathrus archeri)


The aptly named Devil’s Fingers, only rarely seen in southern Britain, is a striking species, which reached Europe from Australia or New Zealand at the start of World War I (1914). It was first recorded in Britain from Cornwall in 1946. As global warming advances this exotic species may well become more common in Britain. One thing is for sure, its striking appearance and rancid smell guarantee that it will not go unnoticed for long …

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 448, fig. p. 449.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 304.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 339, fig. f.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 244, fig. p. 245.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Frozen in time …

Bearded Tooth (Hericium erinaceus)


Despite its somewhat neutral colouring, H. erinaceus is, by any standards, one of the most striking and beautiful of all woodland fungi.

It is a rare tooth fungus of dead or damaged hardwood trees in old woodland where it grows mainly on beech and oak. Its delicate pendent spines giving it the appearance of a waterfall frozen in time. It is confined mainly to southern England and eastern Wales. H. erinaceus is of conservation concern across its European range. It is listed as one of only four non-lichenised fungi on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and is thereby accorded the highest level of protection for a fungus in the UK. It is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 470, fig. p. 471.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 233.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 327, fig. e.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 280, fig. p. 281.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Coeur de Sorcière …

Red Cage (Clathrus ruber)






Rarely seen in Britain, C. ruber is a striking and unforgettable species, which was first recorded in Britain from the Isle of Wight in 1844 (British Mycological Society, FRDBI Database, 2017).

Like its close relative the Devil’s Fingers C. archeri, C. ruber emerges from a partly buried, grey-white, gelatinous, uneven, egg-shaped, volva. As the ‘egg’ ruptures, the fruiting body rises and expands to reveal a pale salmon-orange to reddish-orange, hollow, fragile, cage-like network of connecting spongy branches. They erupt and then collapse in little more than 24 hours. Within two or three days all signs of the fruitbody have generally disappeared. The inner surface is lined with a sticky, greenish, fetid gleba, smelling of faeces, carrion or rotten meat which is designed to attract flies, such as the Calliphora sp. in the top image above, which are the primary agents of spore dispersal.

In France this strange stinkhorn is known as Coeur de Sorcière, the Sorcerer’s Heart, which I must say I rather like.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 448, fig. p. 449.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 304.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 339, fig. g.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 244, fig. p. 245.
Stijve, T. (1997). Close Encounters with Clathrus ruber, the latticed stinkhorn. Australasian Mycological Newsletter, 16(1), pp. 11-15.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

A bird in the bush …

Fluted Bird's Nest (Cyathus striatus)

Or in this case a log pile …




The funnel-shaped fruitbodies of C. striatus are always a pleasure to find. However, although often clustered in large groups, they are easily overlooked because they are small and inconspicuous and because their habitat is typically dark, damp woodland.

They initially form as light-brown hairy inverted cones on decayed hardwood or woody debris. With age they become darker and a white protective membrane, the epiphragm, appears and opens, exposing a hollow interior containing a small number of silver-grey egg-like spore cases, or peridioles. Each peridium [nest] typically contains four or five flattened peridioles [eggs]. Whilst the outside of a peridium is covered with grey-brown to orange-brown hairs, the inner surface is hairless but fluted [striated] vertically - referred to in both the common name and the specific epithet. The peridia grow to around 15 to 20mm in height and 6 to 10mm in diameter with a steady taper outwards towards the rim. The individual peridioles are characteristically 1 to 2mm across.

My thanks to Nick Aplin of the Sussex Fungus Group who kindly supplied the above photomicrograph showing the basidiospores.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 442, fig. p. 443.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 307.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 337, fig. g.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 272, fig. p. 273.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Prima ballerina …

Silky Rosegill (Volvariella bombycina)



The balletic and rather beautiful V. bombycina is an infrequent to rare find in Britain and Ireland.

It typically emerges from knot holes and other damaged areas high up on standing deciduous trees. It is not parasitic, and even when observed on living trees it is invariably attached to dead wood. The fruiting bodies, shown in the above images, have appeared within the same hollow trunk of a rotting beech tree for at least the last two years.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 258, fig. p. 259.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 155, fig. g.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 162, fig. p. 163.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Is this what I think it is …

It sure is ...

Tiered Tooth (Hericium cirrhatum)






H. cirrhatum is a very rare tiered tooth fungus of dead hardwood trees in old woodland. It has been reported from several sites in southern England, notably the New Forest, but nowhere is it common. The above images, of a selection of fruiting bodies found on a fallen beech, are from Sussex. This remarkable fungus and other members of the Hericiaceae are distinguished by their icicle-like spines. H. cirrhatum produces irregular cream fruitbodies with little or no real stem. The whole fruitbody is usually 5 to 10 cm across, often occurring in tiered groups covering a large area. As they develop they often overlap and form fused groups.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 470, fig. p. 471.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 233.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 327, fig. g.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 280, fig. p. 281.

Monday, 3 July 2017

1976 (and other hot summers) …

How times have changed …


The prolonged spell of extremely hot weather in 1976, from mid June to the end of August, including fifteen consecutive days where a maximum temperature of 32°C or more was recorded somewhere in the UK, was one of the most protracted heatwaves within living memory. Below average rainfall was notable from May 1975 through to August 1976 resulting in one of the most significant droughts on record.

Apart from the unbearable temperature, the one thing I will always remember from the summer of 1976, in addition to sitting my final exams at school, was the abundance of Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) in Worth Forest, my local Sussex woodland. Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (B. selene) were also abundant to the point where we took them for granted; after all they would always be there - or so we thought. A. paphia is fortunately still present in many Sussex woodlands but our smaller woodland fritillaries are sadly now absent from most of their former haunts. B. selene, which became extinct in Sussex in 2013, is now the subject of a reintroduction programme to its former stronghold.

A warning to value what we have and not take things for granted.

More at:

Blencowe, M. and Hulme, N. (2017). The Butterflies of Sussex. Newbury, Berkshire: Pisces Publications on behalf of Butterfly Conservation (Sussex Branch), pp. 136-145, 146-151 and 152-157.
Pratt, C. R. (2011). A Complete History of the Butterflies and Moths of Sussex. Peacehaven, East Sussex: Colin R. Pratt, 2, pp. 257-261, 261-265 and 275-278.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Cnoc Salltraim ...

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)




C. canorus is a familiar herald of spring and a species that is thinly distributed over a wide breeding range throughout most of Britain, Europe and the Palearctic. It is a fairly common but rapidly declining summer visitor to Sussex, where the males commence singing soon after their arrival; typically in early April. Recent satellite tracking technology has shown that the males usually leave the UK to their wintering area south of the Sahara only a few weeks after first arriving here in the spring.

C. canorus has a well-known breeding strategy as a brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of other birds; typically those of the Dunnock (Prunella modularis), Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) and Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) in the UK. The female, who will specialise in one particular host species, will only ever lay one type of egg and will always target her egg-laying appropriately. The genes for egg pattern and colour are thought to be carried on the female chromosome, so they are passed down from mother to daughter regardless of who the female mates with. This means that a Cuckoo targeting a Reed Warbler always produces eggs with a Reed Warbler pattern and she knows which nests to target thanks to the process of imprinting. As a young chick, she will have learned to recognise the song and appearance of her foster mother; and as a returning adult she will seek out the nests of females that match this mental image and lay her eggs accordingly.

The above images of a female were recently taken on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

References:

Yates, B. (2014). Common Cuckoo. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 360-361.
Whitcomb, P. (1996). Cuckoo. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 358-359.


Saturday, 24 June 2017

In context …

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)


A. iris is best seen through the early morning and again during the late afternoon, when the males come down to the ground, on hot humid days, to take in nutrients from damp earth and animal droppings. They are also partial to human sweat - a key component of Emperor watching - and readily land on observers. Despite this ‘grounding’ behaviour, both males and females spend much of their time resting or feeding high within their arboreal home and out of sight.

The above image shows a male feeding on honeydew high in the oak canopy.

More at:

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Cause and effect …

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)








2017 is turning out to be a very early season for many species of butterfly. My first sighting of iris this year came on Saturday, 17th June when I recorded three males and a female in Chiddingfold Forest. On the same day, a friend recorded four males in a nearby area of the same forestry complex. Our joint feelings were that they’d been out for a maximum of 48 hours. The earliest I’ve ever recorded iris is a sighting of a solitary individual on 12th June 2015. However, for whatever reason(s), that same year I didn’t see another in my local woodlands until 4th July. A highly unusual and freak encounter or are things changing?

One must always be cautious when claiming ‘cause and effect’ with regards to the timing of a butterfly’s flight season. One thing that is evident is that the vast majority of our butterfly species have demonstrated a clear and unequivocal response to climate warming, with their average first appearance dates and abundance peaks now being significantly earlier than they were (Blencowe and Hulme, 2017). The flight periods of most of our species, measured in terms of first annual appearance, the first appearance of subsequent broods (in polyvoltine species), and abundance peaks, have moved forward by between one and three weeks in 20 years, with an average based on 40 species being about 13 days. Interestingly, a few species registered very little response to a warming climate; these included Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Silver-washed Fritillary and Brown Hairstreak (Blencowe and Hulme, 2017).

These days iris usually flies from late June to early August, with most adults emerging over a three week period; the average flight season recorded between 2010 and 2014 in Sussex was 28th June to 9th August. However, during this five-year period, two late years (by modern standards) were recorded. The typical first appearance date during the 21st century is now a little earlier, usually falling between the 20th and 25th June. During the later decades of the last century iris usually emerged in early July, so the flight period has shifted forward significantly, by at least two weeks (Blencowe and Hulme, 2017).

The above images show (i) a male from 17th June 2017, (ii) a male from 23rd June 2017, (iii) a female from 19th June 2017, and (iv, v, vi and vii) four images of two females from 21st June 2017.

More at:

Blencowe, M. and Hulme, N. (2017). The Butterflies of Sussex. Newbury, Berkshire: Pisces Publications on behalf of Butterfly Conservation (Sussex Branch), pp. 27, 170-179.