Friday, December 13, 2019

Lipstick Powderhorn

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I wish I could have set up a timelapse camera on this patch of lichen (which I'm guessing is Cladonia macilenta, or Lipstick Powderhorn) before it rained. I'd love to have seen the progression of growth as desiccated tissues took on water and the bright red spore-producing structures (similar to cup fungi) emerged from the tips of the stalks. 

The Foxelli trail cams actually do have a timelapse function, and last week I looked for a likely placement to capture an eruption of mushrooms. After poking around in the woods awhile I got a better appreciation for how difficult it was going to be to find a good spot! I'll have to try again another time.

I was just refreshing my memory of lichen biology when I read of a discovery in 2016 that the symbiosis of fungus and alga is more complex than previously thought. Instead of a single fungus paired with a single alga, a second fungus was found. And then in 2019, a third fungus was found. I love that we're learning more about these incredible life forms all the time.

The newly found fungi might not be part of the symbiotic relationship, although they don't seem to be harming anything either. It reminds me of our human gut flora, the several pounds of organisms that live inside us yet have their own genomes. We feel like individual creatures, but in fact we're all colonies of organisms. The interloper that recently crashed the gates of my immune system and made me sick was just doing what life does. It pokes around, settling here and there or just passing through as it looks for a connection that makes it safer, more resilient, and part of something larger than its individual self.

If science ever finds the motivating factor that convinces molecules to stop just sitting there, and instead to get off their butts and find something useful to do, such as become a living organism, that will be a mind-blowing day. I wonder if such a motivating factor would be considered a fifth fundamental force of nature, and whether its discovery would make a grand unification theory fall into place so elegantly that we would wonder why it took so long to figure it out.

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