Home | Previous | Back to Fun Stuff | Next

Rainwater Delivery of Mushroom Spores?

Installed on 30 Jun 2009. Latest Update 25 Jan 2015.
Revised or added text is in bold.

This webpage is about some newly seen mushrooms in Starkville, Mississippi. I think the spores which gave rise to them were brought to ground by a brief rain shower which started at 3:09 P.M CDT on the afternoon of June 11, 2009. (The water from that shower was brownish in my CoCoRaHS Network rain gauge.)

At Starkville, the surface wind at the time of the rain shower was about eight mph towards the WSW. Accordng to archived NEXRAD images, at altitude, the rain shower, itself, was moving at about 26 mph in a ESE (nearly due east) direction. (On the map the black arrow represents surface air mass displacement during the three hours preceding the rain shower. The green arrow represents the the distance that the air mass which bore the rain cloud would have covered during the same period.) At this point in time, I don't have a feel for the origin or the altitude history of the spores while enroute to Starkville.

MS-AL-TN
Mississippi-Alabama-Tennessee (Mapquest)

Photographs of what I think are newcomers (hereafter called Newbies) are provided below in hopes that someone located along one of the speculated ground tracks might provide information regarding the spores' last address before setting off on their adventure.

After the aforementioned browinsh rain shower on 11 June, followed by two days of moderate rain in Starkville, MS, (at 9:40 A.M. on 14 June) I found nine small parasol shaped mushrooms in my front yard, in a roughly 10 ft by 10 ft area. Ever since the initial appearance there has been an unbroken sequence of the small mushrooms in the yard (in the mornings) and the size of the area has increased. (A lady, across and down the street has her own batch, and the gent who tends our lawn reports that he has seen patches of them all over town. (You have to look for them in the early morning hours because they shrivel up by about 10:00 to 11:00 A.M.)

I call these mushrooms Newbies because in all the years I've lived at this location I have never before seen the likes of them.

Here are graphs which show the rainfall pattern for my rainfall reporting station, and the daily mushroom populations for a 30 ft x 30 ft area in my front yard.


Daily Rainwater Accumulations and Mushroom Populations

The 0.04 inch brown rain shower which occurred on the afternoon of 11 June 2009 appears in the 7:00 A.M. accumulation recorded on 12 June. (See red arrow in the rainfall plot.) Regrettably, I tossed the brown water and flushed the rain gauge.

In their earliest appearance the mushrooms are dome shaped, and as they mature they open more and more (like a parasol) and finally have caps that are almost disk-like and typically about one inch in diameter. A lot of them have brownish teat-like nipples at the peaks of their caps.

The Newbie mushrooms pop up during the cool part of the evening (pre-sunset), at night and in the early morning. They typically turn brown and shrivel up by late morning. This pattern, which is typical for mushrooms which digest lawn mower clippings, has been repeating ever since their intial debut on 14 June. So far, I have only seen them on Saint Augustine grass.

By using my first photographs of the Newbies, Paul Scott, of Mississippi State University, provided a preliminary identification of them as members of the genus Panaeolus. Based on better photographic (and narrative) material Paul provided a revised but still tenative identification for them as Conocybe albipes (lactea), which are also sometimes also called cone heads.(1) There is a marked similiarity between my Newbies and C. albipes but there are some differences which may be significant. (See below.)

This first picture shows a nearly fully developed mushroom. The stem (stipe) here is about four inches in height.


23 Jun 2009 08:36 A.M. - "Newbie" in grass

Here is a spore print of one of the mushrooms done on 25 June. (I made a hole in card stock and threaded the mushroom stem through the hole.) The mushroom was in contact with the card stock for 3 hrs and 45 minutes.

Spore Print
25 June 2009 11:30 AM Spore Print

Note that the spore print appears to be primarily brown to grey.

Next is a micrograph of spores from the spore print above.

micrograph of spores
Microscopic Image of Spores from 25 Jun 2009 Spore Print
Courtesy, Paul Hamilton Scott, Plant Pathology
Mississippi State University

spore dimensions
Newbie Spore Dimensions (blue dots) compared to Published Size Envelopes
for Panaeolus foenisecii (1) and Conocybe albipes (lactea) (2)
Graph updated 23 Jul 2009.

The sizes of the Newbie spores are consistent with those for Panaeolus foenisecii but the color of the latter is black, so that identification ruled out.

Published spore sizes (above) for C. albipes seem to be significantly smaller, than those of the Newbies, but I have been advised, twice, that sometimes innacurate spore size stats get propagated in the literature.

Note. If published dimensions for any given sample of spores contain systematic errors, both dimensions should be affected in the same fashion. That would would have the effect of moving the centroid of their max-min envelopes along a diagonal that intersects the graph's origin (shown as a faint grey line, above). The envelope for Conocybe albipes (MushroomExpert.com) is displaced horizontally, (not diagonally) compared to that for the Newbies. I take that to mean that the size (and shape) differences are real, and thus may be evidence that the Newbies are, most likely, not the "USA" version of Conocybe albipes. The California version of Conocybe lactea (Mykoweb.com) may still be in the running.


Comparison of Newbie and Conocybe albipes Caps.

Top of cap
27 Jun 2009 07:21 A.M. - Newbie Cap Top

Narrative descriptions of C. albipes match my Newbies, but the photographs which accompany them do not show some of the finer points. Note the dark striations (a.k.a. wrinkles), which are spaced roughly every 10-15 degrees around the periphery of the cap. I haven't seen any photos of Conocybe albipes / (Conocybe lactea) which show them to this degree. None of the images (on the right), copied from MushroomExperts.com (2), show the striations to my satisfaction.

Conocybe albipes Kuo

Conocybe albipes-Barron

Conocybe albipes Nadon

Next is the cap bottom of the same Newbie.

Bottom of cap

27 Jun 2009 07:22 A.M. - Bottom of Newbie Cap

Here is a preliminary map showing mushroom locations over a ten day period. (The grid consists of one foot squares and the dots which represent mushrooms are exagerated in size. The mushrooms do not appear to be distributed randomly. Red and pink dots correspond to mushroom locations after the lawn was mowed. (The mowing does not seem to have affected the pattern.)

Map of mushroom
locations
Map of Mushroom Locations, 21 - 30 June 2009


If the published size stats for C. albipes are correct, then I claim that the Newbies are not yet identified. A modest amount of Newbie spores are being retained at -15 degrees Centigrade, should someone wish to examine them further microscopically or perform DNA analysis of them.

Extra-terrestrial Origin for the Newbies?

Up to this point in this article, I have been focousing on terrestrial sources for the Newbies. There is, in my opinion, another option, extra-terrestrial. The idea, which is not without historical precedent(3), is that mushroom spores may be delivered to earth's atmosphere by meteors. A meteor which has penetrated earth's atmosphere down to the troposphere, might even furnish sufficient particulate matter to serve as rain shower condensation nuclei.

In July to September of 2001, there was an extended period of red rain along the western coast of India(4). The rain contained what appeared to be microsopic biological particles which varied in size from four to ten microns. (Desert dust was ruled out.) The onset of the red rain was preceded by what may have been a sonic boom, produced by the passage (or air burst) of a meteor in the atmosphere. [Thanks to Jose Garcia for calling this article to my attention in March 2006.]

If the Newbies were delivered by a meteor, then my nomination for the applicable meteor shower would be the Areitids which sprinkle down on us in the daytime between May 22 and July 2, peaking on June 7.

Followup, 2010

When they were present in 2009, the newbies seemed to enjoy mown grass-clippings. As a means to eliminate them I began bagging my clippings (on 27 Jun) and the newbies begin to taper off in numbers. (Gotta be careful about false cause.) The last ones that I saw in 2009 popped up on 11 Sep. (One was in our yard and one was in our neighbor's yard up the street.)

On 17 May 2010 I saw the first regular mushrooms of the season in our yard, but as of 19 May I haven't seen any newbies. If some of them pop back up, I'll note it here.

On the morning of 20 May there were six dome-like newbies in our neighbor's yard. None had appeared yet in our yard.

On 24 May I saw our first front-yard newbie of this season. On the same day there were nine newbies in our neighbor's yard.

As time rolls by the numbers of daily newbies are increasing. Generally there is about a 10:1 ratio of newbies in our neighbor's yard versus those in our yard. It appears that disposing of grass clippings (our yard) is still adversely affecting the food supply for our newbies.

In the first week since they reappeared, the newbies (both yards) were kind of weak looking, but since then, they have been looking as robust as they did last year.

It may be significant that in this year the newbies appeared 25 days earlier than they did in 2009 (May 20th versus June 14th). That would be 21 days, based on those strictly in our yard (May 24th versus June 14th).

2011

The first Newbies (two each) seen in our yard made their appearance, in our side yard, on 29 May. A few "regular" mushrooms have been appearing in the front yard for a couple of weeks.

Haven't seen any newbies in neighbor's yard yet.

29 May - 22 June

During this period most of the "newbie" activity has been in our side yard, with daily numbers varying from zero to six. In the front yard, where most of the activity was in 2010, the daily numbers have mostly been "zero." (I had a fungicide applied to the front yard in late spring.) The neighbor's yards have also been dereft of "newbies."

On 23 Jun I did a spore print from one of the newbies that I have been calling "the wimp." ("Wimps" are generally smaller in diameter than "run-of the mill" newbies and their cap ribs are straight and at right angles to the stalk.) The spores turned out to be black! That means that the wimps are a different specie from the newbies.

Turns out that, based on cap shape, there's a third species, which I have started to call "the intermediate." (It's spores are brown.) The caps of the intermediates are actually concave. Looks like they could hold water.

Throughout 2009 and 2010, I was assuming that all three "varieties" were different versions of the same critter. "Sometimes you feel like a dome, sometimes you don't." They all "pop up" sometime around sunset or during the night and wilt away by 10:00 AM.

It now appears that all three species (actually seven) of mushroom (whatever their names) operate in a symbionic fashion. They tolerate one another in the same small area of our side yard (6 feet by 30 feet) and I have yet to see any other kind of mushroom in that shared space.

Here is a montage showing details (as they develop) for each of the seven species.
[Added 23 Aug 2011. Latest Modification 01 Sep 2011.]

Newbie Zoo

References

(1) Michael Wood and Fred Stevens, Mykoweb.com: The Fungi of California: Panaeolus foenisecii

(2) Michael Kuo, (2007, December), Conocybe albipes. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web Site:
http://www.mushroomexpert.com/conocybe_albipes.html

(3) Martin Beech, "On Meteors and Mushrooms," J. Roy. Astron. Soc. Can., 81, 27, (1987). Abstract reads: Several folklore sources describe a connection between shooting stars and the appearance of mushrooms. This association has, on at least two occasions, been alluded to in historical "scientific" papers. These articles highlight how poorly understood the meteoric phenomenon was during the period c 1750 to 1800. [This article has been made available online, courtesy of the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS)]

(4)Godfrey Louis and A. Santhosh Kumar, "The Red Rain phenomenon of Kerala and it's possible extra terrestrial origin," Astrophysics and Space Science, 302, 175-187, (2006). A preprint of the article's abstract is available at:
http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0601022.

Acknowledgements

Information from the following meteorological websites was used in preparation of this article.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, & Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network
History: Weather Underground
Weather Underground: NEXRAD Radar Archive for Columbus AFB, MS

Send comments/questions to Bob Fritzius at fritzius@bellsouth.net
Shade Tree Physics