Friday, 4 November 2016

Life at the bottom …

Literally …

Many organisms perform a vital role in the nutrient cycle, particularly in assisting with the conversion of animal dung into humus. The organisms featuring most prominently in this role are insects, mainly flies and beetles, and various species of fungi.

Cowpats are home to a host of micro and macro fungi, but one of the early colonisers of cowpats, moving in as soon as there is a surface crust, is the tiny disc-like ascomycete fungus Cheilymenia (= Coprobia) granulata. They appear as flat or shallow concave discs, typically 1 to 2mm across and 0.5 to 1.5mm tall; yellowish-orange when fresh but drying darker; sessile; usually in groups and sometimes occurring in huge swarms. The fertile [upper] surface is bright orange, smooth in the centre but granular near the rim. Although probably overlooked by most people, this colourful ascomycete is a very common sight on animal dung throughout Britain and Ireland.

The key to identifying to species level the various species of Cheilymenia and Scutellinia (the other main group of eyelash-fringed disc fungi) of which there are close on 50 known in Britain and Ireland, is by microscopic examination of asci, spores and any hairs or 'lashes' that cover the infertile surface.

I have to say they remind me of sliced carrots ... !


O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on Earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 372.
Skidmore, P. (1991). Insects of the British cow-dung community. Shrewsbury: Field Studies Council. Occasional Publication No. 21.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 344, fig. p. 345.

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