Mycelia and aethalia

A cool, rainy autumn Saturday followed by a warm, sunny Sunday means lots and lots of fungi in the woods at the Lakeshore Preserve. Well, before you rush in and correct me, of course I mean lots of fungal fruiting bodies. The mycelia were there in the soil and leaf-litter all along, quietly decapitating nematodes, or shuttling nutrients about, or computing large Mersenne primes, or whatever else it is, exactly, they’re doing down there. But cool temperature and moisture are, it seems, the best conditions to produce a spectacular display – seemingly out of nowhere – and blow the minds of plodding metazoans.

Right in the path were gem-studded puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum):
Gem-studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum), Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13

On fallen logs there was a vast abundance of forms, ranging from these tiny yellow fairy-cups (Bisporella citrina):
Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13
to these (I think) clustered bonnets (Mycena inclinata):
Clustered bonnet (Mycena inclinata), Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13

and these lapidary little mushrooms I haven’t managed to place yet:
Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13

And lots more. Not only that, but there were also – and this was a personal first, so it made my day, I don’t mind saying – slime molds. The first I saw was this wolf’s-milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum):
Wolf's-milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum), Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13
I include this shot as the first one, though blurry, because I want to point at that red blob on the left. That, my friend – unless I miss my guess – is a single cell. Lycogala is a plasmodial slime mold (there are also cellular slime molds, about which more in a future installment), which means its active form is a single very big cell with lots of nuclei: a plasmodium. It moves (though very slowly on the human time-scale), and engulfs and eats things, much like an amoeba – which basically is what it is, taxonomically speaking. The big brown blobs are fruiting bodies, lots of spores surrounded by a crust. They are called aethalia, from Greek αιθάλη (aithale), soot; I’m told that’s what the spores bursting out look like. Here is a better picture of just the aethalia:
Wolf's-milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum), Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13
The orange ones are newer and the brown ones older.

There were also aethalia of false puffball, Reticularia lycoperdon:
Lakeshore Preserve, UW-Madison, 10/6/13
Wikipedia, and a number of other sources, inform me that in Veracruz, Mexico, the aethalia are called “caca de luna” – moon-crap – and fried like eggs. There’s one citation for this, a book I haven’t been able to lay my hands on yet, but I am very curious and Googling has really only brought out references to the Wikipedia article, so, stay tuned.


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