Mushrooms Can’t Play tennis

Devil’s fingers

 

Maybe mushrooms can’t play tennis, but according to a mushroom researcher1 that’s about all they can’t do. In fact, the fun guy on the left moves like an octopus. The devil’s-fingers mushroom lives mostly underground, but when it’s time to reproduce it looks like it’s being born from an egg. It’s tentacles reach out and produce a putrid slime, which flies love. My guess is the slime feeds their spores.

Of course, there are many things mushrooms can’t do, but the researcher obviously knows how much they can. One of the most intriguing things they are capable of is growing their own antibiotics. Inject certain mushrooms with  bacteria, and they will produce antibodies, which  their “sweat” exudes and can be collected for human use. So, if you have a disease from bacteria, which is resistant to existing antibacterial medications, your little mushroom can serve as your personal pharmacy.

Another unlikely use is as building material. Many mushrooms fall apart in my hands so it surprised me that they could be made into strong, light furniture or bricks. In addition people are working on how they can be used in cleaning products, textiles, biofuels, biodegradable packaging—take a breath it goes on—insulation, wall tiles, particleboard, a styrofoam substitute, and more. Seems like a new area of research.
My last post made me hungry for the mushroom soup soup I had in Prague. From googling I think it was made from wild morels. There are evidently around 1.5 million different kinds of mushrooms with 10,000 known edible ones. Who knew from our grocery store offerings?  I  found  wood-ear and oyster mushrooms in an Asian market and mixed them. It turned out yummy.

Doll’s eyes-poisonous

 

I’ll end my internet mushroom hunting with another weird one. I love the names the biologists come up with. At one time I thought only physicists had amusing names for their discoveries.

 

 

PS: Of the mushrooms in my last post, the ones which are edible are:  turkey tail,  stinkhorns in their egg stage, veiled lady, some brain mushrooms, indigo milkcaps, amethyst receivers (but can absorb arsenic from soil), and lion’s mane. Some are unknown, and some smell so bad it doesn’t matter as no one wants to eat them. I came across a recommendation not to trust apps for identifying edibles in the wild. I don’t need to be told twice.

  1. Tradd Cotter, mushroom researcher and cultivator for a company called Mushroom Mountain

Source:National Geographic

Use Mushrooms as an Escape

Fly Agaric in cap stage

Well, there are many mushrooms that can make you escape permanently, and those that can give you a fun-guy high, but I’m speaking about an escape into their wonderland of existence. I’m one of those who thought those bright-red, white-polka-dotted mushrooms that elves sat under in fairy tale books were figments of someone’s wonderful imagination. Then hiking in the woods near Sea Ranch not so many years ago, I encountered a real one. I was so fascinated that my husband had to drag me away from it lest I touch it and transfer the poison to my picnic sandwich.

Fly Agaric in flattened stage

A recent NYTimes article about the fly agaric reminded me of that day. Evidently, it’s a good year for mushrooms. The article confirmed what our guide on a cruise on the Danube through Eastern Europe told us on the night we ate a marvelous mushroom soup. Mushroom hunting near Praha (Prague) is a favorite pastime. It’s relaxing and brings in income. Her grandfather showed our guide how to hunt for safe mushrooms although he liked to say, “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.”

At any rate, in a bit of google sleuthing, I encountered an article with amazing pix of  more bizarre mushrooms. Thank you to Google for aggregating images and a way to identify those in the public domain, most from Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons. I’m sharing what I found below.

Now I need to google what kind of mushroom might have been in that delicious soup in Prague.

 

This Blog May Bug You.

If you, like me, thought human beings were the first farmers, you would be wrong. Ants began farming 55 to 60 million years ago while the origins of human farmers date at the earliest 11,500 BC. While farmer ants have a common farmer ancestor, human farming occurred separately on different parts of the globe at different times with the Chinese first in their domestication of rice.

Ant brains no larger than pinpoints figured out how to grow fungi in climate-controlled underground chambers. If you had X-ray vision, you’d see great webs of chambers under forest floors. Ants weed, water, and keep harmful bacteria away from their crops. Hmm, I wonder how much they charge per hour.

The ants ancestral farmers originated in the rain forest of South America, but 30 million years ago a branch of ants diverged and carried their craft to drier climates. The primary researcher of the evolution of these ants, Dr. Ted Schultzspeculates, “With enough time, the dry climate created ideal conditions for the more complex ant farmers to domesticate the fungus, controlling temperature by digging deeper chambers, or maintaining humidity by bringing in water from fruits, plants or morning dew.” Wow!

Then, there are the bees. They originated intelligent twerking. Not only do they communicate through waggle dancing, they can teach each other to use tools. Biologist Olli J. Loukola2  used a plastic model of a bee to demonstrate that moving a ball to the center of a platform resulted in a reward of a sugary treat. It didn’t take long before a host of bees was pulling strings—literally—for dessert. See video in Sources. The researchers also used bees’ ability to detect magnetic fields to guide bees to pull the ball, but the fake-bee teacher worked best.

Bees also invented crowdsourcing decision-making.  When a swarm of bees needs a new colony, a few hundred scouts will zoom off in different directions to look for potential locations. Then, they twerk to communicate information about found sites to the swarm. This decision-making practice inspired Louis Rosenberg, who runs a Silicon Valley startup called Unanimous AI, to build a tool to support human decision-making by crowdsourcing opinions online. Hundreds of participants respond to a question all at once, pooling their opinions into a single answer. He cites examples of better predictions than polls. He also talks about situations where a swarm of human doctors may make better decisions than artificial intelligence software.

If only humans could work together as well as bees, our planet would be a better place.

  1. Ted Schultz is an entomologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
  2. Olli J. . Loukola is at Queen Mary University of London

Sources:  NYTimes article on Ant Farming
Origins of human agriculture
Bees can teach each other to use tools.
Watch the bees; they’re fun
Emulating bees can boost human decision-making.