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Smelling But Edible!

I was out walking recently with friends to enjoy the heather, which seems to be rapidly ‘going over’ this year. In fact many flowers seem, to my unscientific mind, to have had a short season, due no doubt to the lack of rain. I’m not complaining but the late butterflies, bees and other insects may well do so. We walked through Skrikes Wood near Bewerley and our sense of smell was enrlivened by the stench of something foul. Was it fox, well eventually we found the cause - a stinkhorn fungus (Phallus impudicus), presumably in its prime, gross! These remarkable organisms have evolved to attract insects, which feed on carrion, so that they will land on the fungus and take away the spores, on their feet, to create another generation of revolting stench. If you are out walking and come across a foul odour, check it out, you may have also stumbled across this strange fungi. One thing is for sure, once you have smelt your first stinkhorn you will never forget it. Even Geoff who walks with us and claims to have lost his sense of smell was able to ‘appreciate’ the stench. As you can see from the photo, their shape is particularly telling and this is recognised in their Latin name. In fact it is alleged that no less a person than Charles Darwin’s granddaughter Etty Darwin, along with other Victorians, was so disgusted or embarrassed, or both, by these fungi that they would rise at dawn and cudgel them to death rather than risk them fruiting and spreading their spores. The main reason for this activity was to protect any young lady who was walking through the woods. I would say if the young lady recognised the shape then their actions were in vain and if they didn’t then so what. The fungi have a cap which is initially covered with a smelly olive-green ‘gleba’ that attracts insects this is quickly attacked and removed as the insects move on. It may seem odd, very odd, but someone has determined that these fungi are edible, although only in the very early stages when they look like an egg and more importantly, maybe, smell less.

The photograph shows at least four insects on the fungi and these include beetles as well as flies. The beetle is Oiceoptoma thoracicum or the red-breasted carrion beetle, evidently a common woodland species, although I certainly don’t recall seeing one previously. The flies on the fungi seem to be blow flies, probably the flesh-fly, the female of which lays young larvae and not eggs, and the greenbottle. The final fly might be thrip, although it is very difficult to tell, and thrips usually feed on flowers. In fact I may be wrong about all the insects I have tried to identify. My apologies for last week when Mark Campey had sent a photo of a wasp like insect which I said was probably Gooden’s Nomad Bee, well Mark sent the photo to Stephen Falk at BugLife who has positively identified the insect as the figwort sawfly (Tenthredo scrophulariae).

Sightings

Miss Jayne Croft was walking near Farnham recently and, “I saw a black otter! It walked slowly on to the road from a field on the left, stopped and looked at me and my two Patterdales for a few seconds, then turned and walked back to the field. I’m sure it was an otter, could I be seeing things?” The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) website for Staveley Nature Reserve states, “This superb wetland site lying close to the River Tutt holds year round interest for visitors with regular sightings of otters and several orchid species among the highlights.” Farnham is relatively close to Staveley, so the answer is almost certainly yes. I do have some reservations in that Jayne describes them as black and mink are much darker coloured than otters; however, light conditions etc play a big part in determining colour, so colour is not always a good indicator. The biggest difference between mink and otter is size, mink are stoat size, otter are probably three or four times as big. Finally otters have made a good comeback locally and are probably up to maximum capacity now on some of our rivers and I get regular reports from the Nidd and especially the Ure. Lucky Miss Croft.

Bill Shaw tells me he “regularly sees sparrowhawk, a regular visitor around the area, it will sit on the hedge above where a blackbird shelters looking into the hedge for its prey, today it did not succeed.” Bill also writes, “I photographed this collared dove standing its ground (or air space) against a young jackdaw, it survived several attempts from the intimidating jackdaw before flying off.”

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