Today’s reader photos are of fungi, and come from reader Rik Gern, who adds an artsy interpretation. His captions and ID’s are indented.
Here are some submissions for your Readers’ Wildlife Pictures section.
I’ve held off on sending these for a while because I’m having a devil of a time identifying genus and species. Believe me, I’ve spent hours searching images for potential matches, but if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the world of mushrooms is vast. Talk about your endless forms most beautiful!
I’ll make a stab at the genera of three of the four types represented here:
The first two look like they might be of the genus Panaeolina (foenisecli?). They were growing in rotting leaves in central Texas in the autumn on a misty day, if that helps with identification.
The third picture was taken on the same day in the same location, a few feet from the first mushrooms, but these were growing from a fallen tree limb. Until I tried to look up the Latin binomials I had thought of them as cremé brûlée mushrooms, but I seriously doubt that’s what they’re called. My best guess is Galerina marginata.
The big spongy looking mushrooms were also found in central Texas, although these were taken on a cool Spring morning after a few rainy days, and were growing in the grass. They look like some kind of Boletus. They were partially covered with a soft white mold which is hard to see in the pictures, but looked like snow or frosting from other angles. A fungal fungal infection? One of the mushrooms looks like it has a bite taken out of it, but I wonder what would leave marks like that?
The pictures in the next set were taken in northern Illinois in the fall. These mushrooms were growing on a tree. I apologize for not being able to come up with a latin name for even the genus, but after many searches, the only comparable images I could find were stock photos that didn’t provide any information.
The Boletus with the “bite” taken out of it is the basis for the first–I don’t know what you’d call it–digital distortion, “Necro Borg: Resisting Assimilation”. I worked on this as news of COVID 19 was just starting to spread, and I guess I was picking up on a sense of doom and gloom and sort of an ambient ennui. It kind of gives me the creeps and I’m glad I’m not feeling that way now! (Exercise is your friend!)
The close-up of the mushrooms from Illinois is the basis for the second digital distortion, “Virus X: The Fear Factor”. This was also done right as the world was starting to shut down and there was this feel of a spreading biological menace and a spreading social isolation to combat the menace. The other thing spreading seemed to be fear, for some fear of the coronavirus, for some fear of the containment and isolation, for many, both. Maybe there are two pandemics, one biological and one psychological?
Today’s photos come from two sources. First, a fly from Diana MacPherson.
Hi Jerry, below are some images I took of a deer fly (Chrysops excitans) that rested for quite a long time on my glass table outside this evening. I took various angles but I think the side angle is the best even though the wings look rather pretty reflecting the colours above in the back angle.
Four photos form Arthur Williams of Ohio, whose captions are indented:
I have been combing my little sylvan suburban wilderness to find the nest of the red-shouldered hawks, Buteo lineatus, that I knew was in the area based on the everyday appearance of mom or dad in our copse of trees out back. I finally found it hiding in plain sight in a neighbor’s maple tree, aggressively pruned by the power company to avoid the lines that crisscross the half-hearted deciduous jungles of southwestern Ohio. The juvenile is on the left, I think, and the very next day he fledged, as I haven’t seen him back since, much to my chagrin.
The bug-eyed Northern cardinal,Cardinalis cardinalis, is in our Canadian Cherry, Prunus virginiana, getting his carotene fix from the red berries that are nearly gone. The sharp-eyed arborist might also note a third species in the tree or at least its extended phenotype. The fungus, Apiosporina morbosa, produces the scabrous welts better known as “Black Knot” on the branches of susceptible fruit trees and is very difficult to eradicate; this explains the shabby condition of the tree.
The honey bees Apis mellifera are swarming in our hedge maple tree, Acer campestre; it was an awesome site to see thousands of bees swarming their new queen, so intent on her that the whole swarm could be coaxed into a box and carted off to form a new colony. We contacted a local beekeeper’s association to see if they wanted to find the bees a new home, but they had moved on before they could arrive to collect them.
The last shot is of my little street, ordinary in every way, except when it’s bathed in the lunacy of a full moon, with the smoky mists of a summer downpour hanging in the air, filtering the reflected moonbeams into surreal pastel blues that the thousands of screaming frogs (species unknown) seem to enjoy. That there is so much wildlife in this little patch, completely incurious about some damned virus or a certain bloviating orange barnacle, keeps me centered and just barely sane.
During the pandemonium surrounding the entry of Honey and Dorothy’s broods into Botany Pond at the beginning of May, reader David Campbell sent me some wildlife pictures. And, as sometimes happens, I forgot to put them in the “readers’ wildlife” folder. He reminded me, and, with apologies, here are some late photos. David’s captions are indented:
Descriptions follow. The Cannon Spring photo [last one] is not the highest quality but the situation was so unique that I thought some of your readers would be interested.
Dog Puke Slime Mold (Fuligo septica) A plasmodial slime mold that frequently occurs on mulch around plants after heavy rains. The gross factor made it a big hit with my students when it appeared in the ornamental plantings outside my classroom. It has no odor. I am waiting for someone to come up with a Hairball Slime Mold.
Sailfin Catfish, Pterygoplichthys sp. Photographed in Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest of Florida. Sailfins are exotic invasives that I have seen in a lot of springs in the St. Johns River basin. Two species of Pterygoplichthys are found in Florida and frequent hybridization makes identification to species difficult. Sailfin catfish are edible but they are encased in a hard, bony armor so cleaning them is difficult. Some people simply cook them “in the shell” and peel them apart.
Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus). Blue crabs are anadromous, occurring in both fresh and salt water. This one was photographed about 15 feet below the surface at the mouth of a freshwater spring in the Ocala National Forest.
Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) Gars look intimidating but are not aggressive toward swimmers. This meter long fish swam over to examine me and then went back under nearby overhanging vegetation to do what gar seem to spend most of their time doing, sitting motionless in the water column.
Green Fly Orchid (Epidendrum magnoliae). A native epiphytic orchid that is found as far north as North Carolina. Different plants bloom at different times of the year, sometimes as late as December in Florida. The flowers are quite small and easily overlooked but worth the effort to find.
Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes). Photographed in Arizona. This is one of the smaller rattlesnakes and this individual was typically nervous and aggressive. The right infrared sensing pit is visible forward of the eye. Like many other pit vipers, sidewinders hunt at night and use infrared radiation from homeothermic prey in the final localization stage of hunting.
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Two photos of a chrysalis, the pupa of this familiar butterfly. These photo were taken three days after pupation. The first photo was taken using conventional front lighting. Clearly visible in the “skin” of the pupa are the outlines of wings, antenna, respiratory spiracles, and abdominal segmentation. The second photo, taken during the same session, shows the chrysalis backlit. Notice that the lower two thirds of the pupa is translucent with little or no visible structure. Small clusters of cells are already organizing development of major butterfly organs and tissues from the products of broken down larval tissues.
Unicorn Caterpillar Moth (Schizura unicornis). This is one of the more unusual Notodontidae caterpillars and was found feeding on an antique rose in the garden. I moved it to a less valuable Cherokee rose where it continued feeding. The adult is a nondescript little moth with a 25-35 cm wingspan.
Cannon Springs, Ocklawaha River, Florida. This is a grab shot of something that is only visible for a month or two every three to four years. Back in the 1960s the Army Corps of Engineers conceived and began construction on a barge canal connecting the Gulf of Mexico with the Atlantic Ocean, cutting across the Florida peninsula around the same latitude as Ocala. One of the most beautiful rivers in Florida, the Ocklawaha was dammed to provide a wider and deeper channel for barges using the canal. The resulting reservoir covered more than a dozen freshwater springs including several large ones. President Nixon halted the canal construction before it could be finished but the dam remains and attempts to dismantle it and begin restoring the river have failed due to political resistance.
Every three to four years the Corps draws down the water level in the reservoir and, for a few weeks, several of the “lost” springs reappear. Cannon is one of them. I had planned on snorkeling here to photograph the fish and spring but I was the only human within miles and I never swim alone, especially when there is a five foot alligator sunning on the bank. This photo was taken by holding the camera underwater as I floated nearby. The larger of the two spring basins is in the background including the two vents where water flows out fast enough to keep the limestone clear of debris. Also visible are several species of fish including lake chubsucker (Erimyzon sucetta), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), chain pickerel (Esox niger), and bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). The spring is now submerged beneath four additional feet of murky brown water and won’t be visible again until at least 2023.
When I first read the publicity about this recent (2017) paper in Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., I thought that the authors had come up with a new solution to how the fungus Ophiocoryceps unilateralis, a parasite on carpenter ants, turns the ant into a zombie, behaving in a way that facilitates the dispersal of the fungus.
People are fascinated with this system because of the “zombie” connection, and because of the fact that a fungus (considered a “lower” species) can control the behavior of the ant. In this this case the fungus somehow causes the infected ant to climb onto vegetation, bite into it hard, and then die with its body extending out, allowing dispersal of the fungal spores into the air from a stalk that grows out of the ant’s corpse. The spores then disperse, and can fall on another ant so that the fungus begins it life cycle anew. Here’s the life cycle from MicrobeWiki:
And a photo of a dead and with the fungus sprouting from its body. Note how the ant has bitten into the vegetation to secure itself: a true death grip!
And here’s a Planet Earth video, with Attenborough narrating, showing the “attack of the killer fungus” Cordyceps (a different species that kills the same way) on bullet ants (a different species). But the principle is the same (though not necessarily the mechanism).
There are other examples of microbes or fungi controlling the behavior of their host in such a way to facilitate their own spread at the expense of the host’s life. A recently famous one involves the discovery that the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondiiappears to change the behavior of rodents—its intermediate host—making them lose their fear of cats. The rodents are then devoured more easily by cats, who then shed the eggs in their feces, infecting more rodents who come into contact with the feces. Here’s that life cycle (it has several life stages) from Wikipedia:
Parasites manipulating the behavior of their hosts to facilitate the spread—and, of course, the spread of the genes producing that host-altering behavior—is what Richard Dawkins calls an “extended phenotype”, with the new behavior being considered a trait of the parasite that produced it. However the parasites do this, it’s a marvel of evolution—a sophisticated “behavior” of simple organisms that arose via natural selection.
Up till when this paper was published, it’s always been thought that in the case of ants and “zombie-producing” fungi, the fungus invaded the host’s brain, changing its behavior in an adaptive way for the fungus (note Attenborough’s “explanation” in the video). Now, however, the 2017 paper by Maridel Fredericksen et al. shows that the fungus invades not the brain, but muscles in every part of the body (click on screenshot below, the pdf is here, and the reference and link at the bottom). In fact, most of us missed that paper, and continued to say in the last three years that the fungus turns the ant into a zombie by invading the ant’s brain.
That excited me at first, because I thought that the fungus was somehow manipulating the actual movement of the ant’s muscles, including that crucial clamping of the mandibles on the plant. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The invasion of muscles may provide nutrients for the parasite, but is not yet seen as a way to control the ant’s behavior. What’s new, then, is that while we still don’t know how the “zombie” behavior arises, we know it doesn’t involve fungal invasion of the brain.
The advantage of this system is that the fungus and ant can both be cultured in the lab and so experiments can be done. The authors did sophisticated experiments involving infecting the carpenter ant Camponotus castaneus with the fungus, and also with a “control” fungus Beauveria bassiana, a general pathogen which doesn’t change ant behavior.
They infected ants with both fungi, and traced where the infection went with a combination of staining, producing serial sections of three parts of the ants’ bodies, staining the sections, training the microscope through “deep learning” AI to distinguish ant tissue from fungal tissue, and painstakingly putting together the sections.
In short, they found fungal tissue throughout the ant’s body, but not in the brain, even though the ants behaved as zombies. This shows that brain infection by fungal hyphae (the branching filaments that the fungus produces) is not responsible for changing the ant’s behavior.
What they did find is that in most ants the different fungal filaments connect up together to form a network, and that that network often encircles the ant’s muscles and sometimes invades them. Here’s a photo showing the hyphae joining up; the caption is from the paper. “B” shows the cross section of hyphae forming connections with each other:
This is a cross section, but when you put lots of cross-sections together, you can reconstruct the 3-dimensional structure of the fungal network, as in this figure (again, caption from the paper)
The fungus not only surrounded the muscles, but in some cases penetrated the muscle fibers themselves, perhaps, the authors posit, to obtain nutrients (the generalist fungus occasionally did this, too). There is no indication that this connection of the fungal hyphae with the muscles affects how the ant behaves.
So what we have is not an answer to the question of how the zombie fungus works its magic, but how it doesn’t—through the brain. But that doesn’t mean that the behavior isn’t mediated through the brain, for the fungus could still secrete some kind of molecule that interacts with the brain and doesn’t require the fungus to enter the brain. There’s still a lot left to learn. But we shouldn’t doubt that the manipulation of ant behavior really is an evolved “extended phenotype” of the fungus.
Today’s photos are from regular contributor Tony Eales, who hails from Brisbane. Here we see nature red in, well, spores and mycelia—pathogenic killer fungi. Tony’s notes are indented:
I’ve had a few interesting sightings of late and none more so than the entomopathogenic [insect and arachnid-killing] fungi I’ve found on insects and spiders.
The first two shots are of Beauveria sp. probably Beauveria bassiana commonly called Icing Sugar Fungus. In this case it has infected a Robber Fly of the genus Ommatius.
Now the interesting thing about classifying fungi is that many have a sexual form and an asexual form, and these are so different that they have been classified as separate genera in the past. So Beauveria bassiana is the anamorph (asexually reproducing form) of Cordyceps bassiana, which is known as the teleomorph or sexually reproducing form. Both together are known as the holomorph. After 1 January 2013, one fungus can only have one legitimate name. Looking at this paper, one sees that while both Beauveria and Cordyceps are legitimate genera, for this species Beauveria bassiana would be the legitimate name.
With the next one this is a species that targets spiders. The anamorphic type Gibellula is the accepted name and the former name Torrubiella for teleomorphic forms has been deprecated.
The photos are of a small spider consumed by Gibellula cf arachnophila showing the fruiting bodies. The second is of an Arkys lancearius infected with an early stage of Gibellula and after that we see the small yellow sexual form of Gibellula cf arachnophila, formerly classified as Torrubiella sp. I collected the Arkys and have it at home in test tube in the hope it will produce fruiting bodies for me to photograph.
Last, I have an unfortunate caterpillar that has been killed by Metarhizium rileyi, another entomopathogenic fungus that is being actively investigated for its ability to kill a wide range of Lepidopteran pests. While there’s always been interest in using entomopathogenic fungi like B. bassiana and M. rileyi, the virulence of entomopathogenic fungi is affected by environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, light, and solar radiation.
Don’t forget to send in your wildlife photos (if you did already, I almost certainly have them in the queue). Today’s batch comes from Tony Eales in Australia, who sent a diverse batch of insects, spiders, plants, fungi, and reptiles. Tony’s notes and IDs are indented. This was sent February 17.
We’ve had buckets of rain that has finally got the fires completely under control albeit with a fair amount of flooding. This weekend was the first one dry enough to really get out with the camera and see how things are. In the open eucalyptus forests, there is a lot of late flowering now that the rains have come. I found this native Spade Flower which is in the violet family, Afrohybanthus stellarioides.
Up in the local rainforest there were signs of life everywhere. Particularly striking were the fruiting bodies of a Honeycomb Coral Slime Mould,Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.
The nice thing about doing macrophotography in the rainforest in Australia is that you can often be the first person to get a live photograph of a species.
This one was a tiny fungus weevil, Eupanteos sp. I was informed by an expert on iNaturalist that this is an endemic genus with five known species in Australia (two undescribed), and while it most resembled E. bifasciatus, the taxonomic description for that species has a white stripe both above and below the dark band; so perhaps it’s something else.
A small Lauxaniid fly, these flies are small and often mistaken for fruit flies. The one in the photo is Poecilohetaerus pinnatus. While I can find live photos of other Poecilohetaerus species, I believe this is the first online of P. pinnatus.
I have sent a picture of this species of Rhotana, a small Derbid planthopper from the rainforest, before. But now I have better equipment and have got a clearer image. This species is hypothesized to have a portrait of a jumping spider on its wing. This is something we see a lot as shown in this cool paper, “Do jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae) draw their own portraits?” by David E. Hill, Abhijith A. P. C. and João P. Burini.
Because of the recent rain there were lots of these Dripping Bonnets, I think they are Southern Dripping Bonnets, Roridomyces austrororidus which I have photographed in Tasmania; but they may be a different sub-tropical species.
The find of the day was a ground dwelling Funnelweb Hadronyche sp. probably either H. infensa or H. valida. Apparently only an expert can tell them apart, and that is with a dead male specimen in hand. Females of the two species are indistinguishable. I guess DNA would work too. I managed to annoy it sufficiently to get the classic threat pose with the drop of deadly venom on its fangs. Find-a-spider website has some very good notes on funnelwebs. “Funnel-webs rarely climb and so will usually be found at floor level in a part of the house where the humidity is high. When provoked, both sexes rear up (though they do not jump) and drops of venom appear on the ends of their fangs. This tendency to void venom is an important identifying feature of funnel-web spiders.”
Lastly, we had a visitor in the backyard chicken run. A coastal Carpet Python, Morelia spilota ssp. mcdowelli. It hung in the lower branches of a bush in prestrike mode, perfectly motionless for several hours. I’m hoping it got one of the rats or feral doves that come for the chicken feed. It was a young-looking snake that didn’t look like it could swallow our chickens, but I didn’t risk it and let them run in the yard while the snake was there.
Tony Eales of Australia sent some diverse but inclusive photos, including insects, plants, fungi, mammals, and arachnids (mites). His notes are indented:
A more or less random grab bag of images. First is the law of the jungle in my back yard. One of our native crab spiders Boomerangia dimidiatacaptured a soldier fly Odontomyia sp.
Next is an Australian Tailed-Emperor (Charaxes sempronius) caterpillar that I found on a wattle phyllode. I say phyllode rather than leaf as this species of acacia bush has true leaves only as a seedling and what I always thought were its leaves are actually flattened stems. You can tell because rather than having a central vein it has several parallel veins.
Another of the weird plants that I saw in Western Australia earlier in the year was this odd-looking sundew (Drosera platystigma); the plants were tiny, less than a centimetre across.
I’ve been trying to get out more with the arrival of spring and found this beautiful dragonfly, the Tau Emerald (Hemicordulia tau), sitting peacefully in the cool morning air.
A classic Australian shot of an Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) and joey that I saw at a campsite in the mountains near where I live.
Something I’m trying to find out more about at the moment are entomopathogenic fungi. I found this specimen that had devoured a tiny beetle. I’m informed by an expert at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries who is into these things that it’s probably an undescribed Ophiocordyceps sp.
I more often see the larvae of sawflies munching away on leaves in groups. It’s always interesting to see the adults as they really look like nothing else in the flying insect groups. This one is Pergagrapta polita.
And finally one of the giant mites that I encounter in the bush. I think they must be very active at the start of spring as I’ve been seeing them turn up on Facebook identification groups accompanied by “what the hell is this?!” messages. This is a Rainbowia sp., and it’s about 10mm long, which is huge for a mite. The adults prey on invertebrates and the younger stages are tick-like ectoparasites on many larger arthropods like grasshoppers and huntsman spiders.
[JAC: You can see from this picture why mites are grouped with spiders in the class Arachnida.]
Oy! I forgot to post this this morning. Well, better late than never.
Reader Tony Eales from Brisbane sent us some nice mushroom photos, most of which are unidentified (readers are welcome to help). His notes are indented:
We had some decent rain after a long hot dry period and I went to the local national park to see what was out and about. What was out was an amazing variety of mushrooms. I only have names for a couple.
The yellow ones are probably Amanita sp. maybe Amanita flavella. Aminita muscaria is the famous fly agaric mushroom reputedly used to get berserkers into their homicidal trances. So I probably wouldn’t try eating that.
The large one with a hairy top is Boletellus emodensis which is apparently edible but tasteless and leathery.
My favourite were several little bright red ones, likely of the genus Hygrocybe The rest I don’t know: the first two may well be Amanita again.
We have videos and photos today. The video is from reader Rick Longworth, who found a sodden hawk. His notes:
This immature sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) was completely drenched after a night of soaking rain. Initially it looked pretty pathetic. After an hour of constant grooming, as the sun began to warm the upper branches of the cotton wood tree, the bird began to look pretty good. Flightworthy. This is North America’s smallest accipiter(wingspan 23″), named for its very thin legs. Also note the white dots on the back. They summer in Canada and migrate to the U.S. for the winter.
Reader Randy Schenck of Iowa has suffered an invasion of Canada geese (he says most of them will fly south when the weather gets colder):
For several days here in Wichita and more to come we have 55 degrees (13°C) and Canada Geese, Branta canadensis everywhere I walk. On the water, onthe grass they are in the hundreds, these urban fixtures.
And let’s not forget our friends the fungi; these photos courtesy of Richard Bond, who writes:
The first four photos show four successive days of a fruiting body of a Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, in my garden. The fifth photo is of a nearby clump, which I ate. They are delicious (best before the flat stage): like a more intense version of the ordinary commercial mushroom. They are also quite large. The solitary one opened to 29 centimetres; the largest one of the clump was 21 centimetres and weighed 175 grams. Eating them is quite safe in the UK, as they are very distinctive and cannot be confused with unsafe species.
We have two contributors today with photos of plants and fungi from New England. The first is Rachel Sperling, whose notes are indented.
I was hiking Mount Washington in New Hampshire yesterday and snapped some photos of the alpine plants for my dad, who teaches botany in New York. Thought I’d share them with you and your other readers. Not sure what they all are (sent them to my dad for identification but haven’t heard back). Added a photo of the mountains because it was just so beautiful above treeline!
The mountains are the northern Presidentials (Jefferson, Adams, and Madison) from just below the summit of Mount Washington.
The second contributor is Alexandra Moffat, whose email was titled, “I think these are chickens of the woods -on dead log. (Laetiporus sulphureus, Laetiporus cincinnatus) Orford, New Hampshire.” She added, “We humans are awfully drab. . . “