Cornell University

Time lapse stink

Here’s something I know you’ve all been dying to see. A video of one of the most compellingly jaw-dropping spectacles in mycology, condensed from four days of electrifying footage. What you can’t see is the stink, the awesome stink associated with this event. It caused our noble departmental photographer, Kent Loeffler, to vent the noxious, carrion-like fumes into the fourth floor hallway outside my office. We have all suffered here in the service of science.

There are two fungi in this video. On your right, the common pinkish-stemmed Phallus ravenelii. On your left, the rarer, paler, netted stinkhorn, Dictyophora duplicata. Note also the guest appearance by Hubert the fly (aka “The Vector”) late in the video! Oh! the humanity.

Quicktime 5+ movie


Time lapse video by: Kent Loeffler

To preemptively answer your insightful questions, let me clarify a few points. The stinkiness is part of the dispersal mechanism of the crafty stinkhorn. The green goop covering the heads is a spore slurry that stinks in a sultry way and attracts flies and such. Insects disperse the spores on their little feet. Why does the mushroom look this way? I can’t say, but I can assure you that you’re not the first to notice a certain resemblance. The stinkhorns belong to an order of fungi called the Phallales. They have been causing trouble for a long time, and first got their suggestive Latin name in 1564. I’m sure we’ll be talking about stinkhorns again. Why, every year I get my full share of upset or bemused calls and emails about them.

Bonus DIY tip: You can do this at home if you are blessed with the “eggs” of stinkhorns in your lawn or garden. An egg in a tall mason jar (keep the “umbilical cord” down and nestle your egg into a cup of damp paper towel) will often hatch stinkily within a few days. Keep the lid SHUT!

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Most people don't pay much attention to fungi, which include things like mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and mildews. Here at Cornell we think they're pretty fascinating. In fact, even the most disgusting foot diseases and moldy strawberries are dear to our hearts. We'd like to talk to you about fungi, so that like us, you too can tell gross stories at the dinner table. Afterwards, maybe you'll notice some things you would have overlooked before, and we think this could be good for the planet.

Kathie T. Hodge, Editor

Beneath Notice, our book of borescopic mycology.

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