Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Wierd Wild Neighbors: Chocolate-tipped Devil's Claw

Welcome back to the blog for day two of Weird Wild Neighbors! The more we grow in our understanding of the weird wildlife that shares this good earth with us the better equipped we will be to treat our wild neighbors with respect and love.

Yesterday afternoon Erin found something growing in the back yard (we live in Wellsboro, PA) that we both found extremely strange. There were three relatively long and skinny tubular shaped things that had popped up among the green grass. Each was white at the base fading to red at the tapered end and each one was coated near the tip with a brown chocolatey-looking substance. Make no mistake; these are not the chocolate-dipped-pretzel-rods your grandmother made for Easter last year.

There were a couple of things that most anyone might take note of rather quickly; there were small flies flying around that melted-chocolate looking slime and the slime itself put off an odor that smelled like musty garbage...a long way off from the romantic poetry with which John Muir describes the American dipper (see blog post from August 20th).

The reason for the odor is that flies aid in the dispersal of spores for this particular species of mushroom. If you want flies to help with the dispersal of your spores first thing's first; you've got to attract the flies. The musty garbage odor put off by the chocolatey slime smells much like a flies typical meal so of course they are attracted to it! As butterflies aid in flower pollination, flies aid in the dispersal of spores for the chocolate-dipped devil's claw. There seem to be some very interesting ecological relationships with this particularly putrid smelling phallic looking fungus.

Yesterday it was the flies, and today, as the "chocolate-tipped devil's claw" as we have taken to calling it, begins to deteriorate, ants and slugs seem to have a sweet tooth for the red and white stalks. 

Before finding out that this was a type of stinkhorn mushroom I made up a name for it, calling it "chocolate-tipped devil's claw." What can I say, it seemed appropriate. The closest I can come to an identification (and I do this tentatively because I'm no mushroom expert) is that it may be the mushroom that apparently has no common name but whose Latin name is Mutinus ravenelii.

If I have temporarily ruined your appetite for chocolate I sincerely apologize. And if you're asking the question, "for what purpose was this made??" I would refer to John Muir's reflection on poison ivy about which he says, "...first of all it might have been made for itself." And then there's the first chapter of the book of Genesis (which is not a history book, but certainly is a book of theological and relational truth) that expresses the theme that when God looked upon all that God had made as well as upon each individual, "God saw that it was good." There is something intrinsically good about all living things, even if we find it difficult or impossible to perceive with our limited human senses, even that weird and smelly chocolate-tipped devil's claw mushroom!

The reference guide I used for the mushroom related information in this post is as follows:

(Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. Timothy J. Baroni. Timber Press, Inc.; Portland, Oregon, 2017. Page 507)

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