The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 7, 2001


Biodiversity Corner White Bird's Nest Fungus

Name: White Bird's Nest Fungus or Crucibulum laeve (a.k.a. Crucibulum vulgare)

Found: November 25, 2001 at School Street, among the dead stalks of a Turtlehead plant. There were about 40 nests with some in every stage of development.

Distinguishing characteristics: The nests are roughly conical, less than 1cm tall, brownish yellow on the outside and hairy. The white disc-like "eggs" are the spore cases. The nest acts as a splash cup and the force of a raindrop is enough to dislodge the eggs. The younger nests are closed on top by a yellow cap with no brim or logo so you can't tell if it is on back-to-front. The older nests are empty.

White Bird's Nest Fungus grows on dead twigs, leaf mould, and woody debris. There are other bird's nest fungi but only this one has white "eggs."

Additional observation: One of the topics discussed in the biodiversity article in the November 2001 issue of Scientific American is that of "vertebrate chauvinism" on the part of conservationists. The argument is that mammals, birds, and fish have more charisma than other species and therefore get a disproportionate share of support for study and preservation. But you have to admit the bird's nest fungus is rather cute. It may not be a giant panda but it is exquisitely formed and a treat to find not a culinary treat you can't scramble those eggs into an omelet.

Economic ramifications: Another issue bandied about in the Scientific American article is the economic justification for preserving biodiversity. As long as I can discover jewels of nature like the bird's nest fungus, I don't expect to place a burden on the state's endangered mental health budget. And what if bird-watchers had no birds to watch and turned to drugs and a life of crime? The Carlisle Police would not be able to deal with raccoons or runaway cows. They would need reinforcements. Real estate taxes would increase. The economic case for diversity can begin with the fungi.

Reference: Gary H. Lincoff, Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are invited from all interested observers of nature. There is no requirement to be a photographer or an artist. If you have an interesting observation of wildlife in Carlisle, I can help you with the illustration. Send a description of what you found or saw to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01742 or to Conversely, if you are a photographer or artist, I can help you with identification and description.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito