Journal archives for August 2018

August 05, 2018

Parasitic Molds - Observation of the Week, 8/5/18

Our Observation of the Day is this Syzygites megalocarpus mold, seen in New York by @tbigelow!

Molds can be pretty beneficial to humans - think Penicillum for both blue cheese and antibiotics - but they can also be detrimental, causing ringworm on our skin or forcing us to throw out the remainder of that loaf of bread.  Many other organisms are affected my molds, and in the case of Syzygites megalocarpus that includes their fellow fungi.

Tom Bigelow, who is the current president of the New York Mycological Society, took the above photograph while on an NYMS walk in Harriman State Park back in the summer of 2013. “[It’s] a common parasite that attacks a variety of fungi - I most often encounter it on boletes,” says Tom. “The infected bolete [in this case] had a very long stipe, so the sporangiophores hang down like hair…”

Syzygites megalocarpus, as Tom notes, is a mold that that parasitizes other fungi, especially those we think of as “mushrooms.” When a spore lands on a suitable host, such as a mushroom, it extends hyphae into it. These hyphae use enzymes to break down the mushroom’s flesh, the components of which are absorbed by the mold. When Syzygites megalocarpus is ready to reproduce, it grows sporangiophores on the surface of the mushroom. At first they are often white or bright yellow before eventually hanging down and attaining a more grayish pallor. The spores at the ends will be picked up by the wind, in the hopes of chancing upon another host. Molds like this are integral to many ecosystems, as they contribute greatly to decomposition

“I was drawn to the NYMS the same way most people come to amateur mycology: an interest in learning how to find and identify edible wild mushrooms,” explains Tom. “It was under the influence of the NYMS’s guiding light, Gary Lincoff, author of The Audubon Guide to Mushrooms, that my interests quickly expanded. With Gary’s guidance and encouragement, the NYMS began an intensive survey, about 7 years ago, of fungi occurring in New York City. We now hold weekly walks in city parks all year round.”

The society began participating in the North American Mycoflora Project this year, which, as Tom (pictured above) explains, is

a collaboration between professional and amateur mycologists that aims to systematically document fungi in North America. Participating clubs document their collections using an online platform (our club uses iNaturalist!); collect specimens for deposit in an herbarium (in our case, the New York Botanical Garden); collect tissue samples for DNA sequencing.

iNaturalist is not only the online platform for NYMS’s contributions to the mycoflora project, he says “it is an excellent way for me to archive my photos which I have been amassing for the 10 years that I’ve been seriously interested in observing and collecting fungi.” Here’s hoping for more amazing fungal photos from Tom’s archives!

- by Tony Iwane

- If you’re interested in posting mushroom observations to iNaturalist, our Introduction to Mushrooming video has some advice and tips from @leptiona!

- Game of Molds is a great fungal take on Game of Thrones’ epic opening title sequence. 

- This blog post has some cool facts about Syzygites megalocarpus mold.

- NYMS has several iNaturalist projects, which can be found here, here, and over here.

- Is it safe to eat moldy bread? 

Posted on August 05, 2018 07:51 PM by tiwane tiwane | 11 comments | Leave a comment

August 10, 2018

“We knew this was the sighting of a lifetime.” - Observation of the Week, 8/10/18

Our Observation of the Week is this sequence of photos depicting a Black-breasted Snake Eagle scarfing down a Cape Cobra on the wing! Seen in South Africa by @happyasacupcake.

When I look through faved observations to find the Observation of the Day and see a photo capturing a cool behavior or interaction, odds are good the photo was taken by Copper, who goes by happyasacupcake on iNaturalist. And when I saw the above photo and the rest of the series, I just had to choose it.

Kgalagadi [Transfrontier Park] is one of our favourite game parks, especially for the raptors,” explains Copper.

We noticed the snake eagle with the cobra as it flew up from the ground. We were lucky beyond belief in that it didn’t fly away, but flew slow circles over a clear area close to the road. Every time it flew towards us I took more shots. When I look at the time it took to take the photographs, I can’t believe it was only three minutes. It was so exciting and so charged! We knew this was the sighting of a lifetime.

While it seems kind of inconceivable, this behavior is pretty standard for black-breasted snake eagles. They do prey mainly on snakes but will take lizards and other small vertebrates. Like many other raptors, they dive swiftly and grab their prey with sharp talons, which are protected with thick scales. After crushing or tearing off the snake’s head, these eagles do often swallow the animal whole while in flight.

In this case the prey was a cape cobra, a diurnal serpent equipped with powerful venom. It hunts a variety of small vertebrates and its habit of hanging out near buildings does mean that people and Cape Cobras do run into each other. In addition to snake eagles, honey badgers, meerkats and and secretary birds will also hunt the cape cobra.

When I asked Copper how he was able get so many amazing behavioral photos (check out his most-faved observations for some examples), he told me “I’m on the lookout for them all the time, that is when I learn the most,” and advised:

  • “Patience is key. Usually the animals have to settle down from your intrusion before being themselves again.”
  • “Always being ready to take a shot. You never know when a raptor is going to do something amazing.”  
  • “[Go with] a buddy with the same interests. I don’t mean nature broadly, but birds, or snakes, or scorpions.”

He expands on that last tip by saying “I have read lots of tales of woe of plant enthusiasts trying to make observations when they are with reptile enthusiasts.”

While he was always interested in nature, Copper says it was retirement and a move which allowed him the opportunity to start exploring and photographing it.  “I spent decades with my nose pinned to a computer screen working on spreadsheets, accounts and maps,” he recalls. “When we retired, we moved to a conservancy close to Kruger National Park and found a whole new world on our doorstep just waiting for us...Birds will probably always be my first love. But I became more interested in insects and spiders when I saw the amazing observations on iNat. One day in April I decided to take a walk around the house and do my best to photograph every small creature I saw. I couldn’t believe how many different, fascinating things I saw. I am well and truly hooked.

There is no question that iNat has changed the way I interact with the natural world. I find that now instead of just assessing whether something is ‘pretty’ or not, I’m much more inclined to stop and watch. I have much more respect for the natural world...There is nothing scientific about what I do, I just have a love of nature which iNat has flamed into an obsession! I now get triple enjoyment from the things I see, firstly the sighting, then working through the photos, and finally, sharing the observation with people who are interested. I value the identifications, the information available, and the fact that in some small way I may be helping.

- by Tony Iwane

- Make sure to take a look at the entire series of snake eagle photos that Copper posted!

- A brown snake eagle confronts a snouted cobra at Kruger National Park!

- A sea eagle wrestles with a sea snake in mid-air! 

Posted on August 10, 2018 08:25 PM by tiwane tiwane | 15 comments | Leave a comment