Good afternoon friends,
Happy Memorial Day. This week's mushroom is from the genus Phycomyces. Per my research, there are at the moment only two recognized species in the genus: Phycomyces blakesleeanus and Phycomyces nitens. You need to look at the asexual spores through a microscope to determine the species and I'm not there yet. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating little fungus that I found on 5/10/2021 in the Ramble.
Phycomyces is saprobic - consumes dead organic material - on dung and you can see in the picture it is growing from what I believe to be dog poo. It could, as is the case with Central Park, be human feces or even from a coyote - but the lack of hair and location far off the path leads me to believe it's from a dog. Per iNaturalist, Phycomyces has been found on every continent besides Africa and Antarctica, and it fruits year-round. It is capable of sexual and asexual reproduction but the two methods are visually indistinguishable. To get technical, the filamentous threads in the pictures are called the sporangiophores and the balls at the top are the sporangia. To keep it digestible I'm going to refer to the whole body (sporangiophore + sporangia) as "pins".
Despite Phycomyces size, it possesses some fascinating traits. It is phototropic which means its growth reacts to sunlight. It has been noted that the pins will bend toward sunlight the same way flowers do on plants. An answer as to why they are phototropic isn't readily available but it could be due to bacteria that are in the pins. Another neat trait is that Phycomyces is able to avoid objects when growing. For instance, if there was a branch an inch above the dung, the pins would bend around the branch without touching it. Scientists believe they're able to do this by releasing a gas (which could even just be water vapor). If the gas encounters an object it concentrates in the area, due to lack of airflow, and the pins grow in the opposite direction of the gas - thereby avoiding the barrier. Incredible.
Have a pleasant week and hopefully this recent rain brought out plenty of new mushrooms for us to discover,