I like to think I’m a fun guy.
Fantastic Fungi and the Forest Floor
Louie Schwartzberg is perhaps the finest time-lapse nature photographer working today. He’s behind the stunning bee footage that made a quick appearance in my YouTube video about how they see flowers in UV.
Here he talks to mycologist Paul Stamets about the importance of fungi to forest health. When you see a mushroom, you’re looking at the tip of an iceberg, the tiny fruit of an underground fungal web that can stretch over 2,200 acres and live for more than 2,000 years!!
Louie Schwartzberg’s films are available in an iOS app now, for free.
Tip of the mycelium to Amy Robinson for the link
Wee Yeasty Beasties
Fungi are like Rodney Dangerfields of the microbial world. Funny looking, often oddly round, and they get no respect.
I mean, their name suggests that they’d be rather enjoyable to hang out with*. A new survey of the human skin ecosystem has identified some of their diverse influence on human health and biology.
For as much attention as our microbiome gets these days (need a microbiome introduction? I made a video about it), the bacteria receive most of the publicity. But as the photo above shows, many regions of our bodies are teeming with yeast and other fungi (the blue dots are yeast on a human hair). Understanding their diversity is essential to figuring out who’s a good fungi and who’s a yeast beast.
Not only is it important to understand how these various species lead to medical annoyances like toenail infections, athlete’s foot, dandruff, diaper rash, and, of course, yeast infections, but also how they interact with or are held in check by our bacterial copilots. With as many as 60 to 80 different species living on your feet, who’s welcome and who’s a ticking time bomb for a locker-room itch-fest?
*That’s a “fun guy” joke. I hope you got it. Not the fungus. The joke.
Harvard has released a (poorly digitized and barely navigable but nonetheless fascinating) collection of rare mushroom illustrations. Pair with the stunning Natural Histories, exploring the history of scientific illustration.
"Nice fruiting body. Mycelium or yours?"
Wait, what do YOU think they look like? I’m talkin’ about fungi. Get your mind out of the gutter, folks :)
If you’ve ever flirted with the idea that you’d like to be a field biologist one day, cataloguing the grandeur of the world’s species from right there in their natural habitats, using your knowledge to preserve the diversity of Earth’s ecosystems … might I suggest you follow Evopropinquitous’ Things I Learned As A Field Biologist?
Here’s a little lesson on staying dry, and the fungal effects of failing to do so:
When your feet start to bleed - and boy, will they ever - don’t panic. The hole that appears to be eating its way into the space between your 4th and 5th toes on your right foot won’t go any deeper than a full centimeter (you know this because you stuck your finger inside of it and then measured the extent of the bloody seepage on your pinkie finger… the hole is that wide and deep).
I think I’ll stay in the lab for the time being, thanks.
Moving Fast and Slow
You’re looking at a time-lapse of Physarum polycephalum, a slime mold, chasing down its dinner (oats). It’s a protist with many nuclei, but one single, huge cytoplasm. Slime molds are known for their ability to branch out in almost fractal patterns, tasting and testing their environment via rhythmic plasmodia. This slime mold grows in such unique patterns that it has been used to model man-made networks in living systems. It was able to design a nearly exact copy of the Tokyo rail system just by growing between food sources.
Cornell University has an entire video gallery of these time-lapses, featuring everything from moldy fruit and Homer Simpson growing hair to a dung fungus that blows its hat off. Oh, and some rather “suggestive” looking mushroom stalks.
Nature, you crazy.
The Exotic Beauty of Colonial Fungi
Earlier this week we encountered a rather, um, phallic fungus. I marveled at its unique biological splendor and one-of-a-kind “fruiting body”. I also called it weird.
But that fungus has nothing on the beauty of these colony-growing species, captured in stunning microphotography. Included: Aspergillus fumigatus, and genera Botrytis, Mucor, Trichoderma, and Cladosporium
Fungi are very odd.
One gets the impression that plants, animals, and microbes have been going on their merry way, dividing and reproducing and evolving in ways that make sense to us humans. But fungi, they are like that guy who sits by himself at lunch all the time and wears really odd pants and then one day you find out he’s a world-famous abstract artist with an ether habit. Just completely off the reservation, biology-wise.
Anyone got a favorite mushroom?
Also the above bridal veil stinkhorn picture must be followed by this:
How giant? The fruiting body (similar to a mushroom) found in China measures about 10 meters long, 80 cm wide and weighs half a ton. That picture is of a chunk broken off by the discovery team.
It’s the largest fungal fruiting body ever found.
(via BBC Nature)