Issue 2, December 2005
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for this tremendous response. The interest and enthusiasm you displayed was overwhelming. To those of you who trusted us enough to become members, we will not take this confidence lightly. Again, thank you!
I am looking forward to our January 7th meeting which will again be at 1:00 p.m. in the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Building, 40610 K-Beach Road, Kenai. We will take a few moments in the beginning of the meeting for our regular business matters (reading of the minutes and treasurer’s report) and will elect officers to serve during the coming year. But, the highlight of our meeting will be a slide presentation on local mushrooms given by Dominique Collet. This was to have been the program for our December meeting, but had to be postponed due to equipment problems. In addition, he will give a demonstration of how to obtain a spore print from a fresh mushroom. We will have copies of MatchMaker (the mushroom identification CD) available for members and (if time permits), I will give a short presentation on its use. We have ordered 25 copies of Arora’s field guide, Mushrooms Demystified, which should arrive in time for the meeting and be available for purchase by members. There will be coffee and snacks after the presentation. If you can, stay a while and get to know some of the folks.
We have been in communication with Dr. Laursen, a professor of mycology at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He would consider coming down sometime during the spring or summer to teach a two or three day class if there was enough interest. Please let us know what you think of the idea.
So, what is it that this young mushroomer has been picking? I think he’s holding an Agaricus arcticus and aren’t those the caps of Inocybe icesicklei, Pholiota frostbitea and Suillus snomania in his basket?
Don’t you wish that were true! Unfortunately, it is winter, and these cold weather species only exist in my over-active imagination. But, all is not lost. The mushrooms may be gone for another season, but there is still much to do. When you get your copy of Match-Maker, load it onto your PC and take the time to learn to use it. Don’t overlook the quiz feature. It is a lot of fun and a great learning tool. If you have a copy of Mushroom’s Demystified, do more than browse it, read it. Arora has an excellent writing style and both of his books are extremely interesting and entertaining.
The sun has risen over another day in this American community. There is a rush of activity as each one sets off to accomplish their various tasks, totally oblivious to the tens of thousands of alien invaders descending upon them from above. These invaders have but one mission, to take over the bodies of these earth dwellers and replace them with their own. Finally, they will suck out their victim’s brains and use the nutrients to nourish their developing offspring.
If you think this is nothing more than a scene from a ‘B’ rated sci-fi movie, you are very much mistaken. This is an event that has repeated itself over an over again throughout much of the habitable earth for a significant portion of the planet’s history. The community is a colony of ants and the aliens are the fungi, Cordyceps.
I recently read a short article about Cordyceps in a past issue of Mushroom, The Journal Of Wild Mushrooming. Though the article was very brief, it stirred up my interest and I did a little more research. The following paragraphs are gist of that study.
Cordyceps are part of a small group of fungi called Pyrenomycetes. They are often referred to as ‘flask fungi’ because they bear their asci (spore producing structures} in flask-shaped ‘nests’ called perithecia. The perithecia are typically embedded within the wall of the fruiting body with the mouth protruding slightly from the surface of the fruit, much like a small pimple. The spores are forcibly ejected as the result of some external stimuli. In addition, this group also includes the genera Xylaria, Daldina and Hypomyces.
Well, enough of the boring (but necessary) introduction. But, before we go on to look at the oddities of this mushroom I would like to make a few comments about the genus Hypomyces. Of the four genera mentioned above, only Hypomyces has an edible species; Hypomyces lactifluorum (the lobster mushroom). H. lactifluorum parasitizes the pure white Russula brevipes and changes it into a very good tasting, bright orange mush-room. R.brevipes is edible but almost tasteless, and has the texture of styrofoam. When it has been parasitized, the texture becomes similar to that of a potato and the flavor much like that of the chanterelle. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to pick many basketfuls of this mushroom.
Worldwide, there are quite a number of Cordyceps species, and an equally numerous variety of hosts, of which ants are by far, the most common. In the case of the ant, the airborne spore enters the ant’s body through the breathing holes (or spiracles) in its exoskeleton. Once inside, it attaches to the soft tissues and begins to grow. The fungus grows slowly over several days, all the while consuming away the ant. You would think that this would be a painful process, but the fungus produces an anesthetic that blocks the ant’s pain receptors and the host usually shows little visual evidence of trauma. Event-ually the fungus reaches a state of maturity and is ready to sporulate. At this point an unknown process triggers something in the ant’s brain which causes it to leave the relative safety of the earth and ascend a blade of grass. Upon reaching a certain height, the ant clamps itself onto the blade with its mandibles and enters into a catatonic state. The fungus is now ready to produce a fruiting body, but there is little left of the ant to consume. Only the ant’s brain remains. It is the brain that provides the nutrients for the growth of the fruiting body and the production of spores. It is from the brain cavity that the fruiting body grows. In a short time, all that remains of the host is an empty husk. Then, the cycle begins afresh with a new generation of spores raining down upon the ants below.
The process is similar with those species which attack moths, butterflies, cater-pillars, beetles or grasshoppers, but with one exception. In the case of these heavier bodied insects it is important that they be kept cool. If not, they will quickly begin to decompose and the fungus will be killed. These insects are driven to leave the heights where they are normally found and to bury them-selves in the earth. In addition the fungus produces an antiseptic which slows their rate of decay. But, the final outcome is unchanged. The host is sacrificed that the fungus might perpetuate its species!