I am constantly trying to find more and more species of fungi and learn about how these special organisms interact with their environment. Though, because I live in a temperate region, this frosty time of year is tough to satiate my healthy obsession with the forest floor and the fungus it brings. For this reason, I work extra hard throughout the warm months so I can fund a trip closer to the equator. There, I acquaint myself with a diverse array of tropical fungi, instead of simply waiting for the systems in my temperate neck of the woods to re-animate in the spring. This year, I must skip this annual trek to Central America altogether, because I am getting married in November, and must allocate all funds to our giant party, chock-full of love, booze, food and music. So, this year, I’m living vicariously through friends that have traveled, and stalking their every photo, so I can get a glimpse of that jungle vibe; the vibrant, loud, smelly, wet, colorful rainforests you have to see to believe.
My friend who was once my advisor, Dr. Robert Warren traveled with his wife Kim to a place near and dear to my heart. Said place--Costa Rica. While they were hiking up waterfalls, and skipping through cloud forests, I was watching their house, mainly shoveling snow in Hamburg, NY. Feet and feet of snow. At least they had dogs to keep me company, but no offense to them, you can tell where I’d rather be. But if anyone was to enjoy the tropical ecosystems of Costa Rica more than me, it would be my pal Dr. Warren.
Dr. Warren is a unique character, unlike any other ecologist I’ve ever met. You can find him on his standing desk at Buffalo State, carrying out statistical analyses that will make your head spin, listening to an assortment of brutal metal, that too will make your head spin. Not once has he slapped his degrees or publications in my face, or any other face in attempt to flaunt his scientific machismo. He’s a salt of the Earth dude, who always sees you as an equal; a characteristic I yearn to behold.
He’s more focused on the ecology of ants, but even still, he’s well aware of my obsession. I can count on him to scour the forest floor for me every time he leaves the country to be immersed in an exotic location. This is where this week’s edition of Fungi Friday comes in. In Costa Rica, he sent me a picture of a unique stinkhorn I’ve never encountered, Laternea pusilla.
Costa Rica has but two seasons, a wet “winter” from May through December, and a dry “summer” from January through April. He and his wife left for Costa Rica in the middle of December, on the cusp of the dry season. With significantly less rainfall than the previous few months, fewer fungi were fruiting. Still he managed to find a gorgeous species, that was just past its prime.
Laternea pusilla like its other closely related stinkhorn cousins secrete an awful smelling, spore filled goop called gleba, that emulates the smell of rotting flesh, also known as carrion. Carrion feeding insects like beetles and flies land on the fungus, and the sticky substance is then dispersed. The insects disperse the spores more efficiently than wind, because these insects also tend to frequent damp and dark places, so less is left up to chance. This stinkhorn however differs from other stinkhorns, because its gleba is suspended on a specialized structure between its pink, tentacle-like arms.
Finding this fungus in person would have been a whole lot more exciting than just seeing a 2-D picture of it on my computer screen. But I still have much satisfaction knowing that my friend Dr. Warren traveled to one of my favorite places on Earth, and found a rather interesting fungus that only grows on the forest floor in Central America, Southern Mexico, the Caribbean and the Northern tip of South America. In the end, seeing a picture taken in a place I once was, transports me there, even if it is just for a split second. I’ll have to talk to my future wife, but she already knows where my vote is for possible honeymoon destinations.