Observation of the Week, 7/27/17

Our Observation of the Week is this group of Cookeina fungi, seen in Costa Rica by @robberfly!

“One of the earliest memories I have is being in the backyard of my childhood home (I'm not sure I was even walking yet) and finding a tiny Western Toad in the grass,” recalls Liam O’Brien (robberfly). “My brother Colin and I had quite the Tom Sawyer boyhood with a creek nearby. We were constantly bringing frogs and things-in-the-creek home. We converted our baby's sister's pink, plastic wading pool into a pond, with rocks, strands of algae and polliwogs. We got busted from our Mom. The biggest punishment we could get was not "Go to your room!’ or ‘You're Grounded!’, it was...‘No Creek for a Week.’”

“After a great stage career in Repertory Theatre and Broadway, I've gone full circle back to...Nature. The fates handed me a new chapter as an Environmental Conservationist in the niche corner of Invertebrate Restoration. I surveyed all the butterflies of San Francisco in 2009, had an idea of how we could help a little green hairstreak continue on in the county (the Green Hairstreak Corridor) and became involved with many butterfly conservation efforts here.” Liam also monitors endangered Mission Blue butterflies for the National Park Service, and is part of the nascent Operation Checkerspot, which is restoring Variable Checkerspots back to the Presidio National Park. He is also an artists, and illustrates nature for trail signs in San Francisco and publications throughout the county.

While he specializes in butterflies, Liam has a broad interest in the natural world, and he was recently in Costa Rica, taking a Dragonfly Class with Dennis Paulson. The group was allowed into the La Selva Biological Reserve. “We were there to see (and did see) the bizarre Helicopter Damselflies (Coenagrionidae). With four wings beating independently, the tip spots seem seem to whirl around these large, very slender species. They pluck spiders from their webs while in flight. Amazing day, but the humidity was literally dangerous and as I made my way back out of the jungle (to find...oxygen), the light hit the fungi in such a way that made me stop. Like I say on my profile on Instagram (robber_fly) : I love Nature, Color & Form - the Cookeina fulfilled all three.”

Aptly called “cup fungi,” Cookeina make up a genus of fungus that are found mainly in the tropics. Their beautiful cup shape is directly related to their main purpose, which is of course spore distribution. As the cup, or apothecium, fills with rain water, asci, or spore-containing cells, become engorged. When the water evaporates, the tips of the asci pop, releasing spores into the air.

“My use of iNaturalist is slightly selfish - I exploit it daily...trying to...learn. Trying to become a better teacher.  Trying to...see what other's see and being utterly jealous and happy for them :),” says Liam. “I don't do Facebook or Twitter, so, iNat is kinda my main social platform. I've come to make friends with many folks here and that, by far, is my favorite part. Meeting up with other Nature Nerds and letting them show Me what They find...enthralling.”

And for folks who send him robberfly (Asilidae) observations to ID, Liam has a confession:

I picked them as a handle because...I wanted to butch up the butterfly thing. They eat butterflies and are long, sinewy, creepy and wolf-like, like me. But...I don't know my Asilids (does anyone?) and there are days I regret it, but not when I was in the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens a few years back. "Gracias, Señor Robberfly" That, I liked.

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out this short video of Cookeina speciosa releasing spores.

- Listen to an interview with Liam on KQED’s Forum.

- There are over 150 observations of Cookeina on iNaturalist, and they are quite beautiful.

- Here’s some charmingly old school footage of helicopter damselfies.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, July 28, 2017 05:20 AM

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@robberfly and robberflies! ;)

Posted by sambiology 3 months ago (Flag)

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