Thursday, 28 March 2013

Fungal Rainbow

The interminable cold weather has given me the opportunity to reflect and consider my blog posts over the past 10 years. When I started in January 2003, I had no idea that I was on a voyage of discovery that would lead to new species being discovered for Ireland, discoveries new to science, to television and radio appearances, writing opportunities, participation in Ireland's Bioblitz, requests to use images and a grant from the Heritage Council, but most importantly of all: to an excellent network of contacts, friends and experts. In the frequent dull and wet days, this network has been the impetus to keep on researching and hope for the brighter days ahead. Thank you all for that.

Another matter that frequently occurs to me is the contemporary nature of my blogs: I show what I can photograph at any particular moment in time. This has the advantage that it shows what can be found on any particular day, but has the disadvantage that continuity is lost: I might show the larva of a species in May, but the adult in September, so although I am aware of the continuity, my blog doesn't show it. I have therefore decided to occasionally add extra blog posts that include older images (as well as any relevant new ones) in order to provide an overview or summary that would otherwise have been missed.

My previous post showed the bright turquoise fungus Chlorociboria aeruginascens and I instantly remembered all the colours that can be found in fungi. This post uses a few of my older images to celebrate that fungal rainbow.

Firstly, a pair in black and white:

Helvella corium is a rarely-found ascomycete that is usually encountered on sandy soil. I found it at the edge of a track in coniferous forestry in 2004. This was the first time it had been found in Ireland. As the first finder, I was allowed to give it its official Irish name: I chose An Cupán Dubh - the Black Cup.
Helvella corium
I found it in more or less the same location for perhaps 3 years, but not since then: it must have some very strict habitat requirements.

The Porcelain Fungus is probably my favourite mushroom. It is very well named: the flesh is translucently pearlescent and the overall construction is very fine indeed:

Porcelain Mushroom - Oudemansiella mucida

It is only found on dead Beech and always on the higher parts of dead branches.

And now the rainbow:

Amanita muscaria - the Fly Agaric - is the archetypal fairy toadstool. It is found in association with Birch, and has strong hallucinogenic properties:
Amanita muscaria - Fly Agaric
The common name comes from its old use for killing flies by crumbling some of the flesh into a saucer of milk.

Waxcaps are a family of mushrooms with very strong colours. Hygrocybe reidii is my latest discovery, with a very strong smell of honey :
Hygrocybe reidii - Honey Waxcap

Russula ochroleuca is a very common fungus. I find it in all woodland environments, and often in large numbers:
Russula ochroleuca
Amanita citrina is another mushroom that I rarely encounter in its pure form:

Amanita citrina - False Death Cap
There is a pure white variant which smells of raw potato and I find that much more frequently.

Hygrocybe psittacina - the Parrot Waxcap - starts off life with a very bright green cap, but this colour fades over a couple of days as the pigment is spread over a larger area as the mushroom grows and matures:

Hygrocybe psittacina

Entoloma serrulatum is the bluest mushroom I have found:

Entoloma serrulatum
The cap is a paler blue, but the gill edges are an intense blue that has to be seen to be believed. Entolomas are a huge group that can be very difficult to identify to species: the monograph (with addenda!) runs to some 1200+ pages.

Wood Blewit - Lepista nuda - is one of the edible fungi. Care must be taken, however, to avoid confusion with purple Cortinarius species which are poisonous.

Lepista nuda - Wood Blewit
Smell is a good indicator, with the Blewit having a pleasant, perfumed odour; but spores are the best check: Blewit spores are pink, whereas the Cortinarius spores are always brown.

The Amethyst Deceiver is also edible (although I find it tedious to taste):

Amethyst Deceiver - Laccaria amethystina
Young, fresh specimens are bright purple, but older ones go white or brown, which can lead to confusion.

And, finally, a couple that don't fit into the rainbow:

The Pink Waxcap - Hygrocybe calyptriformis:

Hygrocybe calyptriformis
And Clavaria fumosa, looking very much like a worm colony: 
Clavaria fumosa
The last two can be found on old lawns which have not been treated with fertiliser or 'improved' in other ways.

Did anyone notice what I did with the rainbow?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Dead but not forgotten

I stumbled across the remains of a dead tree and was delighted to find it was covered in different fungi. 

The first thing I noted was Daldinia concentrica, more popularly known as King Alfred's cakes:

Daldinia concentrica - King Alfred's Cakes
They range in size from golf-ball to cricket-ball and most definitely look like burnt cakes. Surprisingly, this is the first time I've seen it, although I've been aware of its existence for some time. Specimens of Daldinia are very tough, and it's no great surprise to learn that they are the favoured (sometimes only) dwelling-place of various beetles. New to my Species list.

Notice the turquoise area of bare wood to the left. That's Chlorociboria aeruginascens, also known as 'Green Oak' (although I initially thought my dead tree was Beech, and Chlorociboria aeruginascens is sometimes found on Beech, as is the Daldinia):

Chlorocibaria aeruginascens - 'Green Oak'
Green Oak was very popular for use in Tunbridgeware due to its bright green/blue addition to the more usual cream, yellow and brown of wood colours. Note the small holes in and around the green area, showing that the dead wood is home to more beetles. The beetles and fungi are doing what they do best: recycling dead wood and returning it to the soil. Also new to my Species list.

I also found patches of Flammulina velutipes in various places on the tree:

Flammulina velutipes - Velvet Shank
Its common name Velvet Shank is a translation of the latin velutipes, indicating the dark, velvety stipe ('stem'), although I have noticed in the past that many specimens actually have a pale, smooth stipe. Just to be sure, I put a couple of specimens on a glass slide and they reluctantly dropped a few white spores for me:

Flammulina velutipes spores at x 400
If you find an orange fungus on dead wood and it throws white spores, you can be pretty sure that it's Flammulina velutipes.

At the bottom of the tree I noticed a single group of Turkey Tails - Trametes versicolor:

Turkey Tails - Trametes versicolor
The specific epithet 'versicolor' is accurate: I find these in many colours from yellows, greens, cream and white through to reds, black and brown.

So that's a few more specimens for the 1k challenge, including two 'lifers'. The challenge total is now 218 species.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


In my last post, I showed the buds of Barren Strawberry. The flowers have now opened:

Barren Strawberry
As I was taking the shot, my eye was attracted to a flash of purple to my right and I saw the first flowers of Germander Speedwell:

Germander Speedwell

The second surprise for today was the sudden appearance of the Scarlet Elf Cap - Sarcoscypha austriaca var. austriaca:
Scarlet Elf Cap
This isn't a scarce species in damp woodland at this time of year, but it's the first time I have seen it on this patch.

Third surprise was this little Sepsid fly:

Sepsis punctum
Sepsids are known as 'Semaphore flies' due to their habit of waving their spotted wingtips up and down in some sort of signalling ritual. This one was busy cleaning itself, so I'm pretty sure it had just emerged, triggered by the warm sunshine. New identification.

Next surprise was the Cow Parsley beginning to open. I don't normally expect to see that until April.

Cow Parsley just opening
When looking at flowers, I always check for miners, and sure enough, the usual suspect was present and correct:

The mine of Phytomyza chaerophylli on Cow Parsley
You can just make out the shiny black pupa at the top of the mine.

Staying with miners, I noticed this odd mine of the micromoth Stigmella aurella on Bramble:

Badly-formed mine of Stigmella aurella
This one made its first wrong turn when it met the second vein and turned back on itself, and compounded this with another wrong turn as it returned to the first vein. It has now gone into a decreasing spiral and has run out of food. That's one genetic experiment that won't be passed on to future generations.

The frogs in the ditch have finally spawned:

Frogs (left) and spawn
This is approximately two weeks later than I would normally expect, although the adults have been around for at least 3 weeks.

My search for species for the 1k square challenge has now reached just over 200 species in a week, with very few new additions to the square apart from the Sarcoscypha and the Sepsid.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

New challenge

I have decided to join the 2013 'Pan-species list for a 1k square' challenge. Basically, this is a record of all the species that are found in a 1 kilometre square of my choice during 2013.

The 1k square I have chosen is centred around C 256 038, and I have chosen it because it contains a very wide cross-section of habitat types from hedgerow to woodland, ancient walls, bog, rough pasture and a stream.

The progress can be found under the '1k challenge' tab at the top of this blog.

Although I'm starting late (7th March) I don't think I'll have missed too many species during January and February.

Today I walked the route for around 50 minutes and recorded 75+ species in that time. (I still have a couple of things to put under the microscope). I will have missed many more species and will update the list as I do the transect on my frequent walks in that area.

I plan to record everything that I can identify, from birds and animals through flowering plants, trees, insects, fungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens, so I expect to compile a list of several hundred species by December.

The progress of other participants, along with a 'league table', can be found at:

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The signs are there

We have rain forecast for the next few days, so I took the opportunity to see what signs of spring I could find.

7-Spot Ladybirds hibernate as adults, so in theory they can be seen at any month of the year if the weather is warm enough. But I like to think that the first sighting of the year is a sign of things to come:

7 Spot Ladybird
Many plants are still in their purely vegetative state, but quite a few are making flower buds or new growth. I always consider Barren Strawberry to be the first true flowering plant in each year. True, Celandines will always flower first, but since they can flower any time from November onwards, the Barren Strawberry is my 'first flower' in any given year:

Barren Strawberry flower bud
The plant at top right of that shot is Germander Speedwell which had a very good year last year:

Germander Speedwell

The lowest stem in that shot shows the diagnostic paired lines of hairs that run along the stem.

Bush Vetch is also pushing through the dead fronds of last year's Male Fern:

Bush Vetch
It will be another 4 months before Slender St. John's Wort is in flower, but already the new growth is forming:

Slender St. John's Wort

I cropped this shot of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage to show the rear wall of the ditch covered in liverworts and mosses:
Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage with liverworts and mosses
The main liverwort is Conocephalum conicum ('Snakeskin Liverwort') and the tiny moss is Plagiomnium undulatum.

A few years ago, one of the few local areas to have wild Reedmace was excavated to see if it would be suitable for building a house (it isn't!). Most of the Reedmace disappeared, but some has now made a recovery:

Reedmace - Typha latifolia
Typha is the sole host family for many insects, including some moths and hoverflies. I examined quite a few specimens of the Reedmace for any signs of those species, but none were found. I wonder how long it will take for them to return (if they ever do).

No time is ever wasted in nature: the leaves of Lesser Celandine are hardly full-grown and already the fungal rust Puccinia ranunculi has taken hold.

Puccinia ranunculi on Lesser Celandine

Last year there seemed to be a very wide-ranging absence of fresh mines of the micromoth Stigmella aurella from its main foodplant, Bramble, and I certainly found very few.  So it's good to see a good number of fresh mines (fresh mines are white, whereas old mines from previous years are brown) on the host plant this year:
Mines of the micromoth Stigmella aurella
There are 4 mines on that leaf, all of which appear to have grown to full size. I'm always entertained by the way the mines progress without falling out of the edge of the leaf and also how they seem to detect other mines and take avoiding action before they intersect them (or their own!), especially when older.