Colus pusillus (Berk.) Reichert - Craypot Stinkhorn

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Phallales - Family: Phallaceae

Colus pusillus, Craypot Stinkhorn

Colus pusillus is remarkable and striking, to both visual and olfactory senses. It is just one of the many strange stinkhorns that produce smelly spore-laden gleba that attracts flies. The flies eat what they can of the gleba, but enough spore-laden slime sticks to their feet so that as they fly off and alight elsewhere the spores are distributed to potential new territory for this fungal species.

This process must work, because like the insects that serve as their spore-distribution couriers, the various cage-like fungi found throughout tropical and sub-tropical climes do not appear to be in any real danger of extinction.

The picture above shows a mature fruitbody growing in its typical habitat of rotting leaves (often eucalyptus).

There are several genera of cage-like fungi including Colus, Clathrus, Ileodictyon and Lysurus.

Distribution

Not found in Britain or elsewhere in Europe, the Craypot Stinkhorn seems to be restricted to Australia, where the specimens shown on this page were found by Patrea Andersen.

Colus pusillus, top view

Taxonomic history

First described scientifically in 1845 by English mycologist Miles Joseph Berkeley, who established it basionym as Clathrus pusillus, the currently-accepted scientific name is Colus pusillus, after a 1940 publication in the Palestine Journal of Botany and Horticultural Science by the Polish-born Jewish biologist Professor Israel Reichert (1891 - 1975).

Synonyms of Colus pusillus include Clathrus pusillus Berk., Clathrella pusilla ( Berk.) E. Fisch., Colus muelleri E. Fisch., and Clathrus higginsii F.M. Bailey.

Etymology

The generic name Colus is Latin and means distaff - a fusiform tool used in spinning and the form of this fungus fruitbody when it is young. (In much the same vein, the gastropod Colus islandicus has a distaff-shaped shell.)

The specific epithet pusillus means small or insignificant.

Identification guide

Craypot Stinkhorn, Australia

Description

Initially appearing as a half-buried whitish ball or 'egg' up to 2cm in diameter, the cage-like form of this fungus becomes visible once the outer membrane of the egg bursts. Fruitbodies erupt and then collapse in little more than 24 hours, and within two or three days all signs of the fruitbodies have usually disappeared.

Typically 8cm across and 10cm tall when fully mature, with the cage section roughly spherical and comprising a narrow-limbed currugated lattice framework with typically eight dividing and rejoining branches, this fungus hasa very short pale stem above its torn whitish volva. The inside of the cage is coated with an olive-brown smelly gleba that attracts flies; the gleba sticks to the legs of the flies and is carried away to where a new Craypot Stinkhorn colony might result.

 

Spores

Elongated ellipsoidal to cylindrical, smooth, 4.5-6 x 1.5-2µm.

Spore print

Olive-brown.

Odour/taste

Strong, unpleasant odour reminescent of rotting meat; taste not documented... at least, I can't find anyone owning up to having tried it!.

Habitat & Ecological role

Saprobic, in rotting leaf litter, often of eucalyptus

Season

These stinkhorns can appear at almost any time of year if the weather is sufficiently warm and wet.

Colus hirudinosus, picture courtesy Penny Turner

Similar species

Clathrus ruber, which occurs in Europe (including Britain) .is of similar form but it has a less open cage structure formed without wrinkled surfaces.

Left: Colus hirudinosus (syn. Clathrus hirudinosus) has an elongated fruitbody otherwise quite similar to that of Colus pusillus; it is found mainly in southern Europe, northern Africa and parts of Asia. (Picture courtesy of Penny Turner)

Reference Sources

Colus pusillus (Berk.) Reichert, Palest. J. Bot., R. Ser.: 190 (1940)

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

Acknowledgements

The photographs on this page were taken in Queensland, Australia, and they are shown with the kind permission of Patrea Andersen.

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