Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Master Naturalist training, part three: mushrooms and land snails

Stuff to find on the ground and under the ground!
Fungi








Some people pronounce fungi as if it were "fun guy" and some people pronounce it as if the "gi" was the same as "gyrate." OK, so I guess that I did a little "gyrating" when I was in the Zumba class this morning. 
I'll get back to fungi, however you want to pronounce it.
The most interesting part of the fungi is the mushroom, which is the fruiting body of the fungus (as in fungus among us, if you insist on being punny). Our guide to the world of all things fungal was Ellen Crocker, who is a PhD student at Cornell University. She is very fond of fungi.
I was happy to learn as much as I could about mushrooms because... well... mushrooms are delicious! But, like most people, I am not willing to eat mushrooms that I find outside because some mushrooms are toxic toadstools and I am not willing to die from toxic toadstool consumption.
So, it seems that mushrooms are the visible part of the fungi and that the rest of the huge fungal mass is found underground.
Now for the mystery.
What is a fungus?
A fungus cannot be classified as a plant, and it cannot be classified as an animal.
There are a variety of fungi.
They include mushrooms, molds, and yeast.
That yucky looking stuff that grows in your refrigerator after you forget about certain foods and that ugly green junk that takes over your bread is mold. Mold is a fungus. It's just not a delicious fungus, like a portabella or a shittake mushroom. You don't want to butter up that bread and enjoy it with a cup of tea. In the garbage it goes!
Although fungus causes your bread to be consigned to the garbage receptacle, fungus also causes your bread to be bread. Yeast is a type of fungus and it is necessary to add yeast so that the dough will rise and you'll have bread. 
Fungi are diverse creatures. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million species of fungi growing in this world. Only five percent of them are currently known. The fungi that produce mushrooms are actually relatively few in number. 
Fungi has functions, both good and bad. On the positive side, fungi are recyclers. They feed off of dead material and decaying plants. On the bad side, fungi are pathogens that can cause disease.
We then focused on mushrooms and their characteristics. Mushrooms have caps and gills and stems. They don't have roots because they aren't plants. The mushrooms are attached to those aforementioned fungal mass.
After seeing pictures and hearing about the fungus among us, we were given bags so that we could go mushroom collecting. Out we went to the woods and we began collecting mushrooms. We were told that there are actually only a few deadly mushrooms. There are poisonous mushrooms that won't kill you but will make you feel quite ill and very miserable. They resemble delicious edible mushrooms. Hence, the rule is: if you cannot identify a mushroom, don't eat it. Another rule: Do not poison yourself or others! Life is not meant to imitate a murder mystery, in which the weapon of choice is poisonous mushrooms!
The mushroom hunt was an enjoyable activity. It's an interesting exercise to look for stuff on the ground. Usually, we overlook things that are low to the ground. Hence, we may be overlooking a lot of good stuff. We found some really pretty and colorful mushrooms, as well as some tiny, delicate mushrooms. We also had the chance to see the area where mushrooms are cultivated. Such mushroom species as lion's mane, shittake, and oyster are cultivated there. We didn't find any of those, however.

Land Snails
Marla Coppolino was our guide in the world of land snails. She is also known as the Snail Wrangler. She is a malacologist. That is someone who is an expert in mollusks. Check out her website here. 
There are approximately 100,000 species of mollusks alive today. Snails are a type of mollusk called gastropod. They have two chambered hearts and they have coiled shells. 
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go on a snail hunt with her. Marla and I dug among the tall grasses where the land snails live. The land snails are very tiny. You have to take that into account when snail hunting. If you see something that is dark and very tiny, try to pick it up carefully. It could be a land snail. They are the size of a pinhead. I did find a few when I was digging around the grasses. They turned out to be cute little critters.
Marla described snails as "marvelous mucus." She said that there are three types of snails and they are defined by their natural habitat: fresh water snails, marine snails, and land snails. Slugs are snails without shells.
Snails can breathe and they can mate (they have "good sex") and they can eat and drink. But don't bother singing love songs to snails. They don't have ears and, therefore, cannot perceive sound.
Marla's specialty is land snails. She said that, in New York State, there are 115 land snail species. Some are slugs. Some snails are invasive, while others are native species. There is a species of slug that pollinates morning glories. 
For more information about land snails, take a look at the Snail Wrangler website.

2 comments:

Kim said...

So many of us don't take the time to appreciate nature. Recently there were a few mushrooms (huge) popping up in the yard and I found them interesting. When I did a search to figure out what they were I was amazed to learn the many benefits they can provide and some of the things we need to be aware of. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and continuing to expand my knowledge about "fun guy"....(lol)

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Such an informative post! When we were young and didn't know better we called all this fungi mushrooms! I live in India and in those days, mushrooms were not freely available in the part of India where I lived! We were told never to eat them too! ;)

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