Elegant Stinkhorn

Mutinous elegans

Elegant Stinkhorn
Elegant Stinkhorn

Now really… elegant stinkhorn?  This is an oxymoron if I ever heard one! The very mention of the word stinkhorn should make you quiver –not make you anticipate something ELEGANT!

The best common name I’ve seen for this fungus is probably Devil’s Dipstick.  The structure and color suggest a stick that’s just been dipped into something thick and gooey. It also goes by the names headless stinkhorn and dog’s stinkhorn. I won’t try to explain the second name. Use your imagination.

This stinkhorn is a saprobe.  Scientists are on a never-ending quest to categorize nature, and among plants and animals, one of the first categorical distinctions is how they get their food.  Basically, if you synthesize your own food, you are an autotroph (most green plants).  If you get it from some place else, you are a heterotroph (most animals). In the case of the elegant stinkhorn and many other fungi, which are also heterotrophs, a further distinction is made if they get their nutrition from eating decaying organic matter.  The elegant stinkhorn is a chemoheterotroph, or saprotroph, because it feeds on decaying material on the forest floor. It has long white threads of mycelium that travel underground and dissolve decaying wood and leaves. When conditions are right, a reproductive fruiting body is generated (e.g. a stinkhorn). The best conditions for a fungus like this to compelete its lifecycle involve lots moisture to aid digestion and reproduction, and so it is no wonder that I found these stinkhorns above ground this week (late May) — it has been raining everyday for what seems like two weeks!

Emerging Elegant Stinkhorn
Emerging Elegant Stinkhorn

From the photos here, you can see that stinkhorns emerge from an egg-like structure embedded in the ground. A pink or orange stalk rises out of the egg, reaching about four to six inches in height. The tip of the stinkhorn is covered in a slimy substance that contains the reproductive spores of the fungus.  Flies are attracted to the noxious odor of the green slime and land on the tip of the stinkhorn to inspect it. The flies then pick up the spores on their legs and disperse them to another location. This is a scenario that is not unlike bees and pollen, but somehow the whole thing still sounds a little gross.

There are other stinkhorns you should know about.  One looks like crab claws crawling out of the ground.  The other, Ravenal’s Stinkhorn, has a grayish cap. Check them out for comparison.

Elegant Stinkhorn
Elegant Stinkhorn

Hold your nose, here come two more.  These photos were taken in mid-June at Pandapas Pond.

Stinkhorn
Stinkhorn
Stinkhorn
Stinkhorn

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