Minotaurs and Mushrooms

Over the last few days I have been taking photos of all the mushrooms that have been emerging from the first leaves of autumn. There are some pretty spectacular ones that I had never seen before, and some had no idea even existed in this area.
After having taken loads of photos of at least 50 different species I’ve only managed to identify a quarter (most of which I had the help of James McCulloch – you can find a link to his blog on my ‘Links’ page.). Of these, I’ve only put up the more interesting ones.
Please forgive me if I get some of the mushrooms wrong – I’m not an expert. Similarly, please don’t try eating them just because I say they’re edible!

This first one is perhaps one of the prettier ones – a Mycena, possibly Mycena pura. (at least that’s what my knowledgable sources tell me)


Mycena (pura?)

Next there was a series of small circular blobs with spikes on them – again a very interesting discovery. These are called puffballs – and I’m guessing that the name comes from the amazing way they disperse their spores (their latin name certainly reflects this). You will probably have come across it at some point in your life – perhaps just wandering along a path, and decided subconsciously to step on that small innocuous-looking ball in the grass, just to see what would happen, when it explodes in a cloud of grey smoke – absolutely incredible.
I came across 3 members of this group. The first was the common puffball (below).
This is a small, pale mushroom with tiny fragile spikes covering the surface. These should stick to your hand if you touch them.

The second and third were a bit confusing. I think this second one is a spiny puffball. You can see it is yellower than the common puffball and its spikes curve slightly at the ends.


Spiny Puffballs

This last one got me slightly confused, because its spines are quite big in comparison to both other species. James McCulloch suggests it could perhaps be a Pedicel Puffball, but we’re not sure. All species of puffball are supposed to be edible, until they go yellow inside, in which case they can be dangerous to eat.

Puffball (pedicel?)
I found quite a lot of bracket fungi on my walk, mostly on dead birch. This is one of the most colourful and recognisable species: the turkey tail fungus. It has small flat disc-like outgrowths that are made up of concentric rings of varying colours, which gives it its name.


Turkeytail Bracket Fungus

Undeniably the most well-known of all British fungi – the Fly Agaric. I found 3, one of which was exceptionally big (see below comparison to hand)


Fly Agaric size comparison to my hand

This is, of course, a very poisonous species, so don’t try eating it. Infact, the name Fly Agaric comes from the medieval use of this mushroom, which was to grind it up and add it to milk or sugar, which would attract and poison flies.
I found several Earthballs as well. These are the poisonous equivalent of the puffball. When broken open you can often see a horrible looking blue/black sludge inside, which should hopefully discourage all foragers from trying it.


Scleroderma citrinum

I also came across one of these being attacked by a mould, which was quite interesting – a fungus fighting a fungus.


Scleroderma citrinum and mould

Possibly the biggest fungus I found was this – a member of the Bolete family, which aren’t easily identified down to species level. This was about the span of my hand, with a very thick stipe (stem). Apparently one way of telling if mushrooms of this family are toxic is to slice it with a knife, and see whether or not the cross section turns  a vivid blue (either while or immediately after cutting). Unfortunately I didn’t try this but if I come across one again I certainly will!



Another giant of a mushroom was this Russula (again unfortunately difficult to ID it further than that). As you can see it is a vivid orange inside, and has a deeply depressed or ‘infundibuliform’ shape. It is most likely inedible (you certainly wouldn’t catch me eating it!) Some Russula species have the ability to bioaccumulate high concentrations of toxic metals from the relatively low concentrations of toxic metals in the environment, so you have to be very careful. These metals include zinc, lead and mercury, depending on the species.



The other Russula I’m going to show you is what I am advised is probably a Russula nitidia, however we’re not sure. The most impressive thing about it, however, was the interesting pattern found on it – a perfect heart. This was found off the main paths of the woods, so I would have thought nobody else would have seen it, let alone carve such an intricate heart onto its surface. The only other possible explanation really is an unusually romantic slug. Who knows?


Russula nitida

The final mushroom I thought was of particular interest was this – the Shaggy Inkcap. This is quite a distinctive species, and should be an easily identifiable edible mushroom. Apparently you should only pick them when they’re young (before they start to turn black).
A close relative is the Common Inkcap, which, although it is edible, becomes poisonous when eaten with alcohol, so it is generally not recommended. You can tell them apart because the Common Inkcap lacks the shaggy frills that give the other species its name.

I’m sure most people will have been more intrigued by the ‘minotaur’ part of the title of this blog post than the ‘mushroom’ part, and now is the moment you get to have your curiosity satisfied.
The minotaur I was referring to is infact a humble dung beetle. I had no idea you got rhinoceros beetles in this country until I found one in my garden earlier this year (sorry for appalling photo, it moved very quickly). I was under the impression that all such wonders were confined to the depths of the Asian rainforests. But no, we have our very own species: Oryctes nasicornis. It may not be as big or colourful as its foreign cousins, but it is still an interesting creature, and it is very strong. You can just make out its slightly blurred rhino ‘horn’, which they use to fight over females. Funnily enough, research has shown that this substantial outgrowth on the head doesn’t affect flight at all, only taking up 0.5 to 2.5% of its body weight (due to being hollow), and adding practically no drag either.img_2576

However, what I saw this week was something slightly similar, but a bit different – a minotaur beetle. Again, the photos aren’t of outstanding quality, but hopefully you can just about see the bull-like projections behind its head that give it its name.
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This beetle is a dung beetle which nests in deep tunnels under sandy grassland or heathland. It collects dung from rabbits and other animals, which it brings back to its nest using its stronger front legs. It will lay eggs in this food store, and the larvae will feed on the dung before emerging as adults. The horns behind its head are used to defend these tunnels, and the precious collection of dung that will feed its offspring.
An absolutely amazing little creature.

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