Thursday, August 17, 2006

Now that's a cool fungus

Sea anemone fungus photo by kjbeath from Flickr
Sea anemone fungus; photo by kjbeath, used with permission.

No, that's not a terrestrially adapted sea anemone; it's a picture (I found on UBC's Botany Photo of the Day) of the Sea Anemone Fungus (Aseroe rubra).

The fungus is in a (previously unknown to me) group of fungi called stinkhorn fungi. The Botany Photo of the Day site kindly linked to this Mushroom Expert page, which has a good summary of the fungi. It turns out that they're basidiomycetes (the same phylum as the mushrooms on your pizza1), and are in order Phallales, which includes such cool-looking fungi as earthstars and coral fungi.

These fungi get their name from the stinky mucus covering their fruting bodies at some point in their life cycle; the mucus is apparently used to help with spore dispersal:
The foul-smelling slime is calculated to attract flies and other insects, who land on the slime and gobble it up. Little do the insects know that they have been duped into covering their little insect feet with stinkhorn spores, and have ingested spores into their digestive tracts! Later, these spores are dispersed by the unwitting insects, and the stinkhorn life-cycle continues elsewhere.
So, we've got a fungus that looks like a sea anemone living on land that tricks insects into dispersing its spores. How cool!

1 Assuming, of course, that you don't put morels on your pizza. Morels are ascomycetes.


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