A fungus for mature audiences

We’ve had a good deal of rain lately and yesterday was the first pleasant, dry, day we’ve had for quite some time. I was desperate for some photos and was out with the camera right after morning chores. The most noteworthy subject I came across was a fungus belonging to a group called the Stinkhorns. The specimen shown below belongs to a genus which bears the unfortunate, though entirely accurate (in morphological terms), moniker of Phallus. Believe it or not the topic of spore dispersal among the fungi has been the subject of this blog before. This time I can report that the Stinkhorns are known for production of a slimy exudate which contains spores and a nasty material, putrescine, which smells like decaying flesh and attracts flies. When the flies alight, they ingest the slime and and get it on their feet as well. Then off they go, providing an effective means of spore dispersal. The images in the gallery show a fly walking across the fungal fruiting body, what I thought was a rather impressionistic view of the south-end of a north-bound fly, the ball-and-stick chemical structure of putrescine, and another view of a prospecting fly.

13 thoughts on “A fungus for mature audiences

  1. Gosh, you must have had a lot of rain to be growing fungi like that at the height of summer David. I’ve never come across one, but your description leads me to believe this is a fungus best viewed vicariously. You have managed to make a potentially ugly, difficult subject look amazing … even beautiful … and I’m including the fly in this. That rear shot is perfection 🙂

  2. We finally had a (mostly) sunny day! Sounds like many of us are under grey clouds these days. I love the fly shots, and had a good chuckle over “a rather impressionistic view of the south-end of a north-bound fly”–that saying is new to me. I shot a few insect photos recently that didn’t turn out as well … so I’ll give a lengthy pause after your post here before I put them up on the blog. Like Elke, I don’t think I’ve encounter any of these in our territory. If they smell strongly enough for humans to catch a whiff, then I’m quite sure this is a new fungus to me.

  3. Nitrogen always seems to be associated with stinky or explosive stuff, doesn’t it. Eeeeewwww – I laugh every time someone mentions that something contains “all natural” ingredients,” as if that means purity or cleanliness 🙂 I did love your images and found it best to click through the slide view to get the best effect. When I go out for another walk this evening – if it stops raining – I think I will be careful where I put my hands and feet after reading this!

    • To add another bit of trivia to your collection … putrescine and (believe it or not) cadaverene are very close related (and stinky) diamines … the only difference being that the former has four carbons while the latter has five. D PS: You should have been a statistician and I a chemist.

  4. Really interesting … does the fly derive any nutritional benefit from the fungus, or is it purely tricked into helping to disperse the spores?

    • Interesting question … I don’t know whether the spores that enter the alimentary canal might resist digestion. Even if the fly did benefit nutritionally from the ingested spores, the fungus will still benefit from the transport of spore on the legs and wings of the insect. On the other hand, perhaps the smell alone, is enough to entice the insect even without caloric benefit? Thanks for checking in today. D

  5. Stunning images of the fly! I have never guessed this is a fungus – and I did not recognize it from the images in the linked article. Seems we are missing out on something here in middle Europe 🙂 BTW – accidentally I have just noticed yesterday that we have quite an interesting fungus in our “wine cellar”, creating white extended mesh-like structures on the floor. I have to take a photo someday.

    • Yeah .. this species, in particular, is kinda raunchy …. morphologically speaking … Joanna made very sure that I did not post a picture which I would have had to label as ‘mature – view discretion advised.’ D

  6. Putrescine is a great name: it leaves no doubt about one of the chemical’s characteristics. Only once, probably a dozen years ago, did I come across a phallic fungus. The digital camera I had with me wasn’t all that great, so neither were the pictures I ended up with of the fungus. Now that I’m photographically well-equipped, I never see any fungi of that type.

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