MV Blog


Get down and get fungi

by Colin
Publish date
10 May 2013
Comments (3)

After an extended summer, cool and wet weather starts to set in, resulting in a bloom of beauty for those who know where to look. I'm talking about fungi; those things that taste so good with butter on toast, form mould on your bread, and make your feet itch!

Wood Rotter toadstool Wood Rotter (Gymnopilus junonius)
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

In the past, fungi were classified as plants. But fungi differ from plants in that they do not possess the ability to generate their own food from the sun (photosynthesis), and must obtain their energy from other sources.

Colin Silvey Left: Mycena sp. (probably M.viscidocruenta). Right: Unidentified species.
Image: Two toadstool species in Forest Gallery
Source: Museum Victoria

So what do fungi "eat"? Some fungi are parasitic, and feed off other living things. Some fungi parasitise plants, while some other specialized types parasitise insects, spiders and other arthropods.

Caterpillars with parasitic fungi Caterpillars (Hepialidae) infected with different types of parasitic fungi. The caterpillar on the left has been consumed by Cordyceps gunnii.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Other types of fungi are saprophytic, meaning they obtain their energy and nutrients by breaking down dead plant and animal material. This is the reason you see many growing on old and rotten logs in the forest, amongst leaf litter and on animal dung.

Two fungus species in the Forest Gallery Left: Undescribed species. Right: Gymnopilus sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

The fungi in these photos are referred to as macro-fungi, and belong to the phylum Basidiomycota. This group contains the well known mushrooms, toadstools and puffballs. Just last week I took these photos in our very own Forest Gallery and Milarri Garden. Many fungi spores find their way into the galleries by being transported by the wind and with soils and mulch brought in by horticultural staff. Some may even hitch a ride in on your shoes! Sometimes destructive fungus that we don't want in the galleries gets in by accident. Honey fungus (Armillaria spp.) is a parasitic fungus that attacks and kills living trees. The largest living organism in the world is a species of honey fungus called Armillaria solidipes and covers an area nearly eight and a half square kilometres! Honey fungus could ruin the Forest Gallery if left unchecked, so we constantly have to monitor the plants and soils to make sure it doesn't gain a foothold.

small red toadstool A slightly dried specimen of a Marasmius sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Fungi start life as tiny spores, and colonize their chosen substrate with small threads called hyphae.

Mycelium growing in leaf litter Mycelium of leaf litter fungus.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Hyphae form large masses of mycelium, which decompose dead materials using special enzymes and chemicals.

Two fungus species in the Forest Gallery Left: Stropharia sp. Right: Amanita sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

When the fungus is ready to reproduce, if forms a fruit (mushroom!).

Two fungus species in the Forest Gallery Gymnopilus junonius at the rear, with a slightly eaten Rhodocollybia sp. in front. Right: Probably Agaricus sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Many animals like to eat fungi, including slugs and snails, insects, small mammals, and humans! Uneaten fungi decompose to a thick slime rapidly.

small white toadstool Lepiota sp.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Some fungi can be very toxic, and very hard to identify. You should never eat fungi that you can't correctly identify. There are many groups of fungi enthusiasts that conduct fungi collecting trips and provide help in the correct identification of edible species. The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne run a database of fungi sightings called Fungimap, which is a great resource for people who enjoy the fungus among us. So, get out there and have some fun, guys! (Sorry.) 

Many thanks for identifications to Dr Teresa Lebel, National Herbarium of Victoria, Royal Botanical Gardens

Links and further reading:

Fuhrer, B. (2005). A field guide to Australian fungi. Bloomings Books, Melbourne.

Fungi at the Australian National Botanic Garden

Plants, algae and fungi of Victoria via Royal Botanic Garden

Field Naturalists Club of Victoria Fungi Group

Frogs, bogs and fungi

by Mark Norman
Publish date
2 December 2011
Comments (0)

Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

By 25 November, rain drenched Neds Corner and the clay turned to slippery mud. Great weather for frogs. With the rain's arrival, frogs emerged from the mud as our vehicles sank into it.

Rain at Ned's Corner Rain at Ned's Corner. Left: The view from the homestead porch | Right: Boggy road
Image: M. Hewish / M. Cheng
Source: M. Hewish / M. Cheng

Pobblebonk frogs turned up everywhere. In our pitfall trap lines, 30 pits contained 37 frogs. These frogs bury into the soil in the dry weather and wait for the rains. Then they emerge to feed and mate.

Pobblebonk Frog Pobblebonk Frog (Limnodynastes dumerili) at Neds Corner.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria

The other frogs we encountered were the Spadefoot, Spotted and Barking Marsh Frogs, Peron's Tree Frog and a froglet (genus Crinia). The tree frogs can be recognised by their padded toes, good for climbing.

Peron's Tree Frog Peron's Tree Frog (Litoria peroni) with beautiful green spots.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

The wetter weather was also good for the fungi and Dr Teresa Lebel from the National Herbarium of Victoria found many new records for this region. In arid country many types of fungus rest under the soil in a shrivelled state. As soon as the water reaches them, their stalks hydrate and the heads of species like puffball fungi emerge above the mud to release their spores.

Fungi after rain at Ned's Corner. Fungi after rain at Ned's Corner. Left: Fruiting bodies of the Earth Star fungus | Right: Tinder Conch fungus
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria

One of the fungus highlights was finding fallen white shelf fungi at the bases of big River Red Gums. The spongy dead fungus is called Tinder Conch fungus as Aboriginal peoples used it for carrying the slow-burning coals needed for fire starting.

Our survey team was not as well-adapted as the frogs and managed to bog three cars in one day, but a combination of winches and effort got us all home safe and sound.

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.


Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Frogs of Victoria infosheet series

Royal Botanical Gardens Fungimap

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.