Monday, June 17, 2013

Alien Life Forms

They're back.  The long, chilly, wet spring has given way to a long, hot, wet summer, perfect conditions for fungus.  So the Caesar's mushrooms (Amanita caesarea) that have appeared in my yard in summers past have now reappeared, looking this morning almost like ripe cherry tomatoes ready for the salad.

When first formed (the "button" stage), the young mushroom is completely enclosed in a thick veil of white fungal tissue.  You can still see remnants of the veil tissue surrounding the base of the young mushrooms.

Other Amanita mushrooms have also been emerging in the yard.  Below is what I think is the deadly poisonous Small Death Angel (Amanita bisporiger).  Like many species of Amanita, A. bisporiger has warts all over its cap. The warts are remnants of the veil that enclosed the entire mushroom when it was immature. Veils are found in all Amanita mushrooms, including both Caesar's and the Small Death Angel.

Mushrooms, like all fungi, are neither plant nor animal, but are actually a third great Kingdom of multicellular life.  What is surprising, though, is that appearances aside, molecular evidence indicates that the fungi are actually more closely related to animals than to plants.  While plants import energy from the sun and release it into the biosphere, both animals and fungi ultimately derive their energy from plants, although in different ways.  Both of us, animals and fungi alike, are parasites, if you will, on the Plant Kingdom.

Relative to us animals, fungi have evolved alternative means of harnessing the photosynthetic energy imported by the Plant Kingdom.  To a certain degree, they are rivals to us animals, although there are numerous examples of symbiotic cooperation between fungi and animals.  But to give us some idea of just how "alien" extraterrestrial life might be, we only have to consider how other-worldly the fungus appears compared to the animal.  

1 comment:

misslesley said...

The Caesar's mushrooms are supposed to be edible. Dare you? I just get boletus mushrooms, which the squirrels love, in my yard.