Friday, 9 May 2014

A Poop & Scoop Ascomycete: Pseudombrophila porcina

Pseudombrophila porcina close-up

Our puppy Ruby—now almost a year old—developed an interesting habit after the first snow last fall: she used her snout as a shovel to meticulously bury every one of her droppings. Okay with us. Out of sight, out of mind, as far as we were concerned. But when the big thaw happened a couple of weeks ago we ended up with a major yard and garden clean-up that had nothing to do with last year's plant matter. 

As happens, we missed a couple, and a few days ago I came across one of these strays. I was about to scoop it up with a shovel and toss it into the woods when I noticed something peculiar about it. It was polka-dotted. 


I knew what I had to do—get out my loupe so I could closely inspect, yes, my dog's doodoo. This is the life of an ascomycetes freak. And here's what I saw, which, precisely because I've turned into an ascomycetes freak, was exciting:

Pseudombrophila porcina grows on both herbivore and carnivore dung
Immature Pseudombrophila porcina on dog feces.

I'd obviously found a coprophilic fungus. A dung lover. But which one? There are lots to choose from, especially from the ascomycetes clan. "Lots" is a good thing—I don't know about everybody else but I like the idea of animal dung being broken down and returned to the earth as quickly as possible, and fungi are perfect for the job.

Close-up of immature Pseudombrophila porcina
Immature Pseudombrophila look like tiny beads.
My find was clearly immature, so I got a couple of pieces of toilet paper and a pair of tweezers and brought a sample into the warm house where I dampened the paper. With this simple coaxing, two days later the tiny brown beads had turned into pale beige discs with furry exteriors. The biggest was about 2 mm across.

Pseudombrophila porcina on dog droppings
Mature Pseudombrophila porcina are still tiny.
A bit of digging got me to two very similar species in the genus Pseudombrophila that are both known to colonize herbivore and carnivore dung, P. porcina and P. merdaria. After reading an illuminating discussion about these two on Mycofrance, I went to the microscope. 

Pseudombrophila porcina ascospores
Pseudombrophila porcina spores.

The spores were smooth and the tips of the paraphyses were not inflated, so it looks like mine are Pseudombrophila porcina

I hate to say it, but as unpleasant as animal dung might be, for people like me it's still worth taking a closer look. 


Pseudombrophila porcina on Mycoquebec
Pseudombrophila merdaria on Mycoquebec 
Ascomycete Fungi of North America: A Mushroom Reference Guide, Michael Beug, Alan E. Bessette, Arleen R. Bessette, University of Texas Press, 2014

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