Inky cap mushrooms

Mushroom turns inky black

November can be full of surprises. A rather strange mushroom poked up near a reader’s house this week and identification was asked for. There are many mushrooms to be found on Mount Desert Island, but this particular one I have seen before, and I hoped I could give it a name. It came up from the ground like a big, fat white finger. I think it is a coprinus, or what is called an “inky cap.” At first, the mushroom is white, but after about a week, it turns inky black. This process is called “deliquescence.” Although most of the species is considered edible, I would urge you not to eat any mushroom unless it is identified by a reputable expert on wild mushrooms found here.

Coprinus sometimes grows in clusters, and sometimes it is alone. The “fairy rings” you find growing on grassy laws in a circle are one of this species. They are interesting to see.

I also received a photo of an interesting bug, which turned out to be the western conifer seed bug. If you want to see what it looks like, go to your computer and type in its name.

This rather large bug used to be found only in the west, but in recent years, it has extended its range across the northern United States and into Canada. It’s a bit bothersome, as it comes into homes, offices and labs for overwintering sites. It doesn’t bite or sting. To keep them from coming in your house, replace loose-fitting screens, windows and doors, caulk gaps around any openings and screen fireplace chimneys and attic and wall vents. Mechanical exclusion is the way to handle them.

Another bug question this week was about stink bugs. They are true bugs, and their name comes from the foul-smelling ooze coming from the glands on their bodies. The smell comes from a liquid containing cyanide compounds. They resort to this foul smell as a means of defense, and it usually works on anyone who annoys them.

They are quite interesting if you get past the smell. Their tiny eggs are barrel-shaped and are laid in neat rows on plant leaves. Although stink bugs resemble beetles, they eat differently. Stink bugs eat using a piercing, tubelike mouthpart called a “nostrum.” With this tubelike apparatus, they drink sap and flower nectar. When they are not eating, the nostrum is tucked under the body. Some farmers use stink bugs to seek out and eat caterpillars that destroy their good crops. Adult stink bugs spend the winter in leaf litter. My favorite memory of stink bugs goes back to when I was in grade school and went blueberrying each year with my parents. Invariably, while picking blueberries, I would find a stink bug. It was always annoyed with me, so I experienced the “smell.”

Be on the lookout now for snow buntings, those small sparrowlike birds from the far north that come to visit us in the winter. They fly in a group as one bird. Swirling and moving in great unison then land on the ground and seem to disappear since their colors blend in so well with the barren beach landscapes. If you can see them with your binoculars, you see how beautiful they are. Truly, they are snow birds, and they thrive in it. Their feeding is done mostly on bare ground and along the open beaches. Snow buntings feed and sleep on the ground. Rarely will you see them land on a housetop or even a rock. They go into a tree. When feeding, they look for insects, weed seeds and, if in the seaweed, they look for tiny crustaceans. When you disturb them somewhere, notice how they fly in unison as one bird.

Red, green and yellow are now the dominant colors along island trails. Blueberry leaves provide the bright red colors, and our ever-present evergreens provide a nice green background. Any tamaracks still changing provide a lovely shade of yellow. All together, it is a nice blend. Soon, the bright colors will disappear, and we’ll know it’s winter. Hares will be white, and grouse will have their feathered “snowshoes” on so they move easily on the snow. Grays, blacks brown and green will be our winter colors, except for some crimson berries on a few shrubs.

Flocks of common eiders can be seen close to shore these days in many locations. The males are particularly handsome now. Eiders are large sea ducks with long, sloping foreheads and bills. Males are largely white and black, and females are brown.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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