Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Drumboe Wood

Whilst Ards is a rare, ancient, coastal forest, Drumboe is perhaps even more unusual: it's an old woodland in a central urban setting. Shops, main road, schools, church, hotels and a GAA football ground are no further than 100 m. distant and thousands of people pass it every day with no idea of the rich biodiversity just a stones-throw away.

This shot show shows the River Finn with Drumboe to the left:

River Finn: Drumboe to the left and Ballybofey to the right
The woodland is maintained by Coillte, and the management plan shows a strategy of at least partial replacement of Spruce with native broadleaf trees when the conifers are harvested.

I only had time for a quick visit, but I managed to find a few interesting specimens:

Scleroderma citrinum is a common earthball with a surface criss-crossed with sharp grooves which will eventually act as fault lines for the skin to split along when the fungus is ready to disperse its spores. This specimen is about the size of a golf ball:

The earthball Scleroderma citrinum

Phycopeltis arundinacea is an algal infection that looks very much like a fungal rust:

Phycopeltis arundinacea on Ivy
I find it mostly on Ivy, but I have also found it on other plants with shiny leaves, most often Rhododendron.

Lycoperdon pyriforme is one of the more common puffballs in this area. They can often be seen to form long rows, seemingly growing on the ground, but they are actually following the line made by buried dead wood:

Lycoperdon pyriforme
Leafy liverworts are very often mistaken for mosses, but their habit and form are very different. I spotted this specimen (sample shown about 8 cm across) and suspected it was something I hadn't seen before:
Liverwort growing with moss in damp bank
I took a sample back to the microscope and saw that it has two tiers of leaves (large ones on top and small ones below). The presence of underleaves is unique to liverworts, although not all species have them. This microscope shot of a single frond (12 mm long) shows the view from underneath:

Calypogeia neesiana
It keys out in a couple of keys to Calypogeia neesiana, which is new to my Species list.

This shot shows two mines of the micromoth Stigmella aurella on Bramble:
Two mines of the micromoth Stigmella aurella on Bramble
These mines usually grow quite long, so they are usually found at a maximum of one per leaf; perhaps the second egg was laid by a different female. Each mine progresses quite normally from its starting point, but they eventually meet just left of centre. The mines then become very confused, with much to-ing and fro-ing in the left part of the leaf before they separate and at least one has matured safely (top left). I'm not sure what happened to the second, though.

Bumblebees have historically been summer-nesting species, with the queen making her nest from March onwards. But in recent years, southern queens of Bombus terrestris - the Buff-tailed Bumblebee - have been observed gathering pollen in autumn and they have successfully created winter nests. Presumably we have reached a critical temperature due to warming, since winter nests are common on the continent.

Yesterday I spotted a queen gathering pollen from the Lavatera in my garden:

Queen Bombus terrestris gathering pollen 29/10/2012

This is quite a surprise. I knew of southern specimens trying to establish a nest at this time, but it's not something I would have expected to see this far north. Granted, we did have a few days of sun, but I tend to think that she isn't confused and has decided that it's worth a try this year. So here is a rash prediction, based on a single queen bumblebee: "Mild winter ahead".

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Ards revisited

My previous trip to Ards a couple of weeks ago was slightly disappointing, so I went back again on Sunday. This was a much better trip, with lots of interesting specimens, and it has taken me the better part of two days to get all the identifications as close as I can, since quite a few of the species are new to me.

In no particular order:

Gymnopilus penetrans is a decomposer of coniferous wood: the central specimen is shown still attached to its substrate:

Gymnoplius penetrans on coniferous debris
New to my species list.

Waxcaps are very colourful fungi that are mostly found in grassland, although one or two favour the edges of paths or verges. This is Hygrocybe conica - the Blackening Waxcap. It starts off bright red, fades to yellow and then turns black as it matures:

Blackening Waxcap in the early stages
Late edit: 'Gibster' has just pointed out that the black dots on the Laurel leaves at the bottom of the picture are Trochila laurocerasi. So that's another addition to my species list.

Hygrocybe pratensis is one of the larger Waxcaps. I like the fine detail on its gills:

Gills of Hygrocybe pratensis

Another new species of Waxcap for me: Hygrocybe reidii - the Honey Waxcap - smells strongly of honey, especially at the base of the stipe (stem).

Hygrocybe reidii - Honey Waxcap
New to my species list.

This small but distinctive species glories in the longest name of any in my species list - Inocybe geophylla var. lilacina
Inocybe geophylla var. lilacina

Russulas are another colourful family. They are characterised by bright caps, white chalky stipe and very brittle gills and flesh. Russula ochroleuca is one of the most common species, found under broadleaf trees and conifers:

Russula ochroleuca

This one took a little more time to identify, but I just got my copy of Geoffrey Kibby's excellent new monograph on Russulas and it keys out to Russula sardonia:

Russula sardonia
There are many features used to identify fungi. In addition to appearance and smell, we also sometimes use taste, especially when it comes to Lactarius species, where we often taste the milk (more of this later). I wanted to confirm the identification of the above Russula sardonia and broke of a couple of pieces of the gills and tasted them. The description says that they taste hot and acrid...."sometimes alarmingly so". I can confirm that the gills are the hottest taste I have ever encountered: my tongue is still tingling 24 hours later. Taste with caution.

I hasten to point out that the tasting of fungi has to be done with some guidance: tasting the gills of e.g. Death Cap could have fatal consequences.

New to my species list.

Sulphur Tuft must be one of the most common species: I find clusters of it on every trip I make at this time of year:

Sulphur Tuft

The archetypal mushroom as depicted in countless fairy tales is Amanita muscaria - Fly Agaric:

Fly Agaric
Fly Agaric gets its name from the old practice of putting some in a saucer of milk to attract and kill flies. It has a serious narcotic effect.

The Cantharellus family has some of the most delicious mushrooms, including the Chanterelle - one of my favourites. This is the closely-related Cantharellus infundibuliformis:

Cantharellus infundibuliformis - Girolle

And the Horn of Plenty is another delicious member of the same family:

Horn of Plenty
I usually smell those before I see them.

Earlier on, I mentioned tasting the milk of Lactarius species. they get their name from the 'milk' which exudes from the gills when the flesh is cut. The colour and taste of the milk is an important factor in making an identification. The appearance of this one, allied with the milk, which slowly develops a bitter and slightly hot taste leads me to Lactarius chrysorrheus, which is an Oak associate:

Lactarius chrysorrheus
New to my species list.

I rarely give specific names to Mycenas: I'm still waiting for a monograph to be published. but I'm happy that this one is Mycena galericulata. It grows on dead wood and stumps, and has a very springy stipe which is difficult to break:

Mycena galericulata with flash
This second shot is in natural light:

Mycena galericulata in natural light

Turkey Tails are another decomposer of dead wood. They can be seen in tiers along dead branches and stumps. Colour can be very variable:

Turkey Tails on dead branch

Finally for today, a shot of Candle Snuff fungus - Xylaria hypoxylon:

Candle Snuff fungus

Not a bad page, I think.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Fungus new to Ireland

Last year, I showed spores of a mushroom that I had found in woodchip mulch in a supermarket car park. My identification at that time was a tentative Stropharia aurantiaca.

This week, I found it in the same location and took this shot (cap is 5 cm. diameter):

Leratiomyces ceres
Since I first identified it last year, I found that it has been renamed as Leratiomyces ceres, or Redlead Roundhead. The orange/red cap with grey/pink gills on a dirty white stipe is very distinctive, and it is clearly expanding its territory rapidly. A native of Australia, it was first reported in Britain in 1957. The first record in Northern Ireland was in 1995, and it has been recorded there regularly since then.

As far as I can ascertain, this is the first Irish record, although I'm sure it won't be the last.

New to my species list.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

More fungi and other autumnal species

The fungal season is progressing well, which is unsurprising given the amount of rain we've had this year. In no particular order we have:

Tremella mesenterica, otherwise known as Witches Butter or Yellow Brain fungus:

Witches Butter
I usually find T. mesenterica on dead branches of Gorse, although the Tremella is actually parasitic on Peniophora sp. crust fungi which are decomposers of the dead Gorse, so this is a double dependency.

Just for the challenge, I took a shot of the Tremella spores:

Spores of Tremella mesenterica at x400

On the same branch, I noticed some microscopic Lachnum virgineum:

Lachnum virgineum
These cups are 1-2 mm diameter, and absolutely beautiful. New to my species list.

I noticed these yellow marks on the leaf of Creeping Buttercup, and immediately knew I had found something new:

Leaf of Creeping Buttercup, showing yellow indications of fungal attack

I turned the leaf over and saw this sporulating fungus:

Urocystis ranunculi on Creeping Buttercup
The description of Urocystis ranunculi reads: "Sori in leaves and stems of R. repens as silvery blisters which burst to expose black masses of spore balls." I cannot imagine a more accurate description. There is only one previous record from Ireland, and that was in 1946. New to my species list.

The spores of Urocystis ranunculi are interesting: each round, brown spore is accompanied by some transparent sterile cells the same size as the spore (top right and mid left):

Spores of Urocystis ranunculi x400

Taphrina tosquinetii is a leaf gall of Alder:

Taphrina tosquinetii on Alder
The fungus enlarges the surface area of the leaf in order to create more area for spore production. The remaining normal part of the leaf can be seen to the left.

The Harvestman Mitopus morio doesn't make a web: it lies in wait and jumps out on prey when triggered by movement. It usually (?always) uses one leg as a movement detector. In this case, it's the right rear leg, which has been crossed over and suspended from the right second-from-rear leg, presumably to heighten sensitivity:

Harvestman waiting for prey

I found this solitary sawfly larva on Alder:
Sawfly larva on Alder

I think it might be Nematus viridissimus, but I'm waiting for confirmation, since I haven't seen this before.

We had a single night of frost last week and every night since then has produced a few November Moths:

November Moth - Epirrita dilutata
These can emerge from late September to November, but this is the earliest I have seen them. Larvae feed on leaves of numerous trees.