Social media and citizen science

There has been over the last 5 to 10 years a growth in the use of social media as a conduit between keen amateurs and professional scientists. This can be casual as in the case of Facebook groups which are often established by amateurs but which attract scientists who want to be part of the community. Or they may be more formal where such as Naturewatch (now rebranded as iNaturalistNZ) set up by scientists to capture and curate the observations of keen amateurs. I follow both iNaturalistNZ and four New Zealand fungal facebook page (also another 23 from around the world).

The upside is that I get to see peoples observations from around the country that 10 years ago I would never see. The downside is there is a lot of repetition and not much observation commentary to supplement the photo [see my blog A bread and butter knife, a dollar coin, a smartphone and a white sheet of paper].

This blog is about benefit of social media and citizen science using a species of Amanita as an example.

Amanita nauseosa [illustration Peter Austwick 1995]

Amanita nauseosa [illustration Peter Austwick 1995]

Peter Austwick, a retired mycologist, first collected a strange Amanita in Northland near Mimiwhagata in 1995 growing in pasture (blue star on map).

Known collection sites Amanita nauseosa, 1995-2018

He found it again in Northland on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula at Shakespeare Park in 2003 growing in an area of mowed grass [orange star]. Peter tentatively identified it as Amanita nauseosa. Here it stopped with one or two more collections being made at the same Shakespeare Park site over the next few years.

Amanita nauseosa [illustration Peter Austwick 2003]

The name “nauseosa” came from the original collection when it was described as smelling strong or sickening. Peter wrote in 2003 “I don’t remember any smell but handling the dried [New Zealand] specimens I had a streaming nose and eyes each time”.

Back in 1998, I wrote a summary of the origin of this species – “Amanita nauseosa originally described in I918 from greenhouses at Kew Gardens (Wakefield I918) and rediscovered there, by Reid (I966). Bas (I969) speculated that A.nauseosa was originally either from South Africa, South America, or the U.S.A. Further collections were reported from Mexico (Guzman I975) and India (Watling I985). However, Young (I982) suggested that it was endemic to eastern Australia and this appears to have been supported by subsequent collecting (Young 1994)”.

Rod Tullos is of the opinion that Amanita nauseosa may be the same as Amanita manicata described from Sri Lanka collected before 1910. Thus its origin is still uncertain.


However, this looks like another mushroom species on the move around the world. It arrived in New Zealand at some point and has been sitting quietly in Northland. Then last year and again this year (2017-2018) it started showing up on iNaturlistNZ [the pink spots on the map] and the Facebook groups in the suburbs of Auckland as well as a collection from Great Barrier Island. It will be interesting to see if it spreads in a similar fashion to Amanita sp2. So I will be watching the social media to see where it pops up next.

Amanita nauseosa, Waiwea, Auckland, 5 April 2017[photo Paul Grace]

Amanita nauseosa, Western city fringe, Auckland, 1 May 2018 [photo Ellen Schindler]

Great Barrier Island, Auckland 16 Feb 2018 [photo smartrussell]

Great Barrier Island, Auckland 16 Feb 2018 [photo smartrussell]

Great Barrier Island, Auckland 16 Feb 2018 [photo smartrussell]


Bas C 1969. Morphology and subdivision of Amanita and a monograph of its section Lepidella. Persoonia 5: 285-579

Guzman G 1975. New and interesting species of Agaricales of Mexico. Beihefte Nova Hedwigia 51: 99-118

Reid DA 1966. Fungorum Rariorum Icones Coloratae – 1. Supplement to Nova Hedwigia 11.

RidleyGS 1998. Book reviews. Mycotaxon 66: 515-518

Tulloss RE, Possiel L. Amanita manicata. Retrieved 4 June 2018

Wakefield EM 1918. New and rare British fungi. Kew Bulletin: 229-233

Young AM 1982. Amanita nauseosa: an Australian species? Bulletin of the British Mycological Society 16: 202-208

Young AM 1994. Common Australian Fungi. 2nd ed. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney




Fleur de tan

J.A. Smith wrote in 1878:

Mr. Colenso related the first use of the barks of New Zealand trees for tanning purposes, which took place at Ngunguru (between Whangarei and the Bay of Islands), in the years 1839, 1840, and 1841, which had come under his special notice while living at the Bay of Islands, and often travelling in that district. This was the first place in New Zealand where hides were tanned for leather, the whole process was particularly primitive. Extracts of those several barks there used, with specimens of the trees producing them, he had sent to Sir W. J. Hooker, the Director of the Royal Gardens at Kew, long before New Zealand became a British Colony.

The words tannin, tanning and tan are all derived from the Medieval Latin word tannare which means to convert into leather. There are many processes for tanning leather and one is to use the tannins extracted from tree bark as the tanning agent. The bark of certain tree species, those rich in tannin, would be stockpiled for use. This created an excellent habitat for the slime mould, Fuligo septica, to feed and fruit. So when the French botanist Jean Marchant described it scientifically in 1727 he referred to it as “fleur de tan”. Which literally translates as bark flower but has become flowers of tan.

While the stockpiling of bark for tanning has never been prevalent in New Zealand (see footnote) the use of bark, particularly pine bark, and wood chips as garden mulch has become widespread in the last 30 years. This has provided a great habitat for Fuligo septica. I followed the development of a fruit body of the bark flower over 4 days in my front garden.

The slime mould congregates overnight into a single bright yellow mass that begins to develop into a fruiting body.

Fuligo septica ‎6.27am 2 ‎Feb ‎2018 [photo Geoff Ridley]

By mid-afternoon it has started turning brown.

Fuligo septica 4:36pm 2 ‎Feb ‎2018 [photo Geoff Ridley]

By the next day it is beginning to dry out.

Fuligo septica 7.17am 3 ‎Feb ‎2018 [photo Geoff Ridley]

Fuligo septica 10.15am 4 ‎Feb ‎2018 [photo Geoff Ridley]

On day 4 the content of the fruiting body has been converted to a dry mass of brown spores and the outer layer has fragmented and is flaking. The dry spores are now exposed and ready to blow away in the wind.

Fuligo septica 9.40am 6 ‎Feb ‎2018 [photo Geoff Ridley]


Smith JA 1878. On certain New Zealand and Australian Barks useful for Tanning Purposes. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 11: 570-571

Footnote: The of a bark-based tanning industry is another fungal story to be told later.


Dr Ann Bell is a mycological artist and also a cartoonist. She was also my mentor and supervisor during my post-graduate studies. While Ann’s artwork can be found in her taxonomic papers and books her cartoons are more ephemeral. During my time as her student, I collected a few of cartoons that had a mycological flavour.

The first one featured on the Department of Botany’s (Victoria University of Wellington) annual Prospectus from 1978 until 1988. It features the staff and their teaching and research interest. Down in the bottom corner is someone studying an Amanita muscaria. Who would have known when I started studying botany in 1978 that I would work on Amanita for my PhD.

Cover of the Department of Botany prospectus [cartoon Bell 1978-1988]

“Amanita ID” [cartoon Bell 1978-1988]

I first worked with Ann for my Honours’ project on dung fungi. At this time Ann was working on her dung fungi of New Zealand book which was published in 1984. She illustrated the passage of the dung fungi spores through a sheep like this:

“The dung fungus lifestyle” [from Bell 1984]

In 1986 the first New Zealand fungal foray was held at  Kauaeranga Valley in the Coromandel. Ann drew this cartoon of the identification process to celebrate the Foray and Dr Barbara Segedin’s birthday. The full A4 sheet has all of our signatures.

“Achieving consensus 1” [cartoon Ann Bell 1986]

Ann later redrew a portion of the “identification process” to illustrate a short report of the Foray in a newsletter.

“Achieving consensus 2” [cartoon Bell 1986]

She also drew this grumpy little elf to illustrate the advertisement for the 1987 foray in the same newsletter.

“Grumpy little elf” [cartoon Bell 1986]

Sometime in early 1988, I gave Ann a portion of my PhD manuscript, as a dot matrix printout, to read along with a pile of photographs that were referred to in the text. This was also before scanning of photos was available. The printout came back with Ann’s annotations, corrections and this little fellow who I have come to know as “Russel the Russula spore”. I have included here the SEM (scanning electron microscope) photo that was the inspiration.

“Russel the Russula spore” [Cartoon Ann Bell 1988]

Russula acrolamellata spore [Photo Geoff Ridley]

In 1988 Barbara Segedin retired from the Department of Botany at the University of Auckland. As a retirement gift “A Memorable Mycological Miscellany” was produced. Ann contributed three cartoons. The first had Barbara ranking the three most important things in her life. Note that Cecil was her husband and he was from Yugoslavia.

Cartoon by Ann Bell, 1988

The next was a troop of helmets or Mycena. I like the German imagery of Mycena as helmets rather than the more English image of bonnets.

“A troop of helmets” [Cartoon Ann Bell 1988]

And the last was “the romantic love story of Mucor”. I have also included Ann’s more scientific drawing of Mucor from 1984.

“The romantic love story of Mucor” [cartoon Ann Bell 1988]

Mucor life cycle [illustration Bell 1984]

The curtain dropped for the Botany Department at the end of 1988 as it was rolled into a larger School of Biological Science. Ann illustrated the School’s new prospectus but these did not include any fungi. It did include a moss and some feral knitting:

“Feral knitting” [cartoon Bell 1989]

The beginning of 1989 marked the completion of my PhD and Ann’s cartoon of students completing their degree sums it up.

“Taking flight with a new degree” [Cartoon Bell 1989]

Although in Ann did remind us not to let it go to our heads (in Green, 1979).

“Wearing nothing but his qualifications”[Cartoon Bell in Green 1979]

If anyone one knows of any other mycological cartoons Ann has drawn please let me know so I can include them here.


Bell A, 1983. Dung fungi: an illustrated guide to coprophilous fungi in New Zealand. Victoria University Press, Wellington [this book is still available from Victoria University Press]

Department of Botany, Victoria University of Wellington, Prospectus. 1978 to 1988

Green W, 1979. Focus on social responsibility in science. The New Zealand Association of Scientists.

School of Biological Science, Victoria University of Wellington, Prospectus. 1989

Systematics Association of New Zealand, Newsletter 27, December 1986


The Dog’s thoughts on mushrooms

There won’t be many New Zealanders’ who didn’t follow the life and love of Murray Ball’s (1939-2017) Wal Footrot and the Dog in Footrot Flats. As Shaun Bamber wrote:

When I was 11, I bought a copy of Murray Ball’s first Footrot Flats book off a classmate at school for $2.50 and a pack of sandwiches. It’s sitting here beside me right now as I write these words.

I was already well familiar with The Dog, Wal and the rest of the Footrot crew by then of course – had in fact been almost obsessively collecting the anthologies ever since some relative or other got me one to read while recovering from getting my tonsils out.

And in a great blog looking at the history and reason for the popularity of Footrot Flats by Bob from Temuka wrote:

And that popularity was deserved, because it was a rich strip from a simpler, less media-saturated time. It did romanticise the rural lifestyle, but never hid the dirt and filth of the farmyard. Ball, who lived the life he drew about, could get into devilish detail on a rotting goat’s carcass, or a steaming pile of rank manure – everyday sights for the farmer, but endearingly shocking to everybody else. You could smell the silage in the ink, and that gave the strip a raw, sketchy vitality It was also wildly popular because the characters were so recognisable, (at least in NZ). There was the upright farmer, the hippie neighbour, the cheeky hussy, the stern Aunt and the pampered pet. And there was the Dog.

I have three comic strips cut from 1982 editions of the Wellington Evening Post. They are badly yellowed from years of hanging on my office wall. I don’t know if they were ever reprinted in the many Footrot Flats’ anthologies? So here is the Dog’s thoughts on mushrooms.

[Murray Ball, 1982]

[Murray Ball, 1982]

You can read my blogs about facial eczema here.

[Murray Ball, 1982]

Murray Ball 1939-2017 [photo Fairfax NZ]


Shaun Bamber, 2017. Footrot Flats: Murray Ball’s enduring gift to New Zealand.

Bob of Temuka, 2017. Footrot Flats: Goodbye, Murray. From The Tearoom Of Despair.


Continue reading →

Fungus hunting in Otago

Flat hunting in Otago

My son is moving down to Dunedin to start his PhD. So he and I went down last weekend to find a flat. We found one just above the town belt and a 16-minute walk from the University of Otago central library.

It was also a chance to walk along Queens Drive which meanders through the town belt that separates the city on the flat from the hill suburbs above. I first walked this way when I had just finished my PhD and had my first job lecturing in the Botany Department here.

Dunedin Town Belt, Newington Ave [photo Geoff Ridley]

Dunedin Town Belt, Newington Ave [photo Geoff Ridley]

The enjoyment of walks and rambles …

The reason for walking the town belt this time was to get some photos for a blog about Helen Kirkland Dalrymple. My first encounter with her writing was reading Fungus Hunting in Otago, New Zealand during my PhD. It’s a slim book of 30 pages published in Dunedin in 1940. And, ignoring scientific publications, is the first popular book of fungi to be published in New Zealand. In fact, there would not be another until 1970 when Marie Taylor’s Mushrooms and Toadstools in New Zealand was published.

Fungus Hunting in Otago, New Zealand.

Fungus Hunting in Otago, New Zealand with Leratiomyces erythrocephalus on the cover.

All I know about Helen Dalrymple came from a ‘gallery of naturalists’ that Otago Museum has on its top floor in the old wing. If anyone has a photo of her I would love to see it [see PS below]. The museum exhibit had this to say:

Helen Kirkland Dalrymple (c. 1883-1943)

Was an enthusiastic botanist. She was born in Birmingham but spent her early years at Puerua, near Balclutha, where her father was Presbyterian minister. In 1898 she began attending Otago Girls High School, and in 1902 was awarded the Women’s Scholarship at Otago University. She graduated BA in 1906 and taught at Winton and Napier.

In 1913 she joined the staff of Otago Girls High School and taught English, Latin and Botany for 25 years. It is mainly as a botanist that she is remembered, particularly for her field trips, expeditiously arranging forays into the Town Belt to fit into an hour long lesson or longer excursions to Signal Hill in search of ground orchids.

Helen Dalrymple spent many hours on her delicate water colours, mainly of native plants, which she later used to illustrate her books, Orchid Hunting in Otago (1937) and Fungus Hunting in Otago (1940).

A keen member of the Naturalist Field Club she was regarded as a local authority on orchids and mycology. Gentle in speech and manner, she nevertheless had great determination and strength of character and when in 1915, and later in 1941, it was suggested that the club go into recess it was largely owing to her efforts that it kept going.

Display at Otago Museum [photo Geoff Ridley]

Display at Otago Museum [photo Geoff Ridley]

Miss Finlayson was afraid to open the box

I love Helen’s writing style and casualness and think if she was alive today she would be a blogger:

Earth stars are delightful objects. The first one I ever saw was picked up by an enthusiastic Field Clubber many years ago on his Sunday afternoon walk round the Town Belt. He put it carefully in a matchbox, took it to church that evening, and passed the box on to Miss Finlayson who happened to be sitting in the same seat. At first Miss Finlayson was afraid to open the box, thinking some strange insect might jump out; but finally she did and later handed the specimen over to me for recording.

On the Town Belt, Dunedin [by H.K. Dalrymple]

On the Town Belt, Dunedin [by H.K. Dalrymple]

Helen included a number of line drawings in her book the last was this view towards Otago Boys High with the tower visible above the bush. We went seeking this view but I think that Moana Pool has been built across it and this was the best I could do.

On the Town Belt, Dunedin [photo Geoff Ridley]

On the Town Belt, Dunedin [photo Geoff Ridley]


Dalrymple, HK, 1940. Fungus Hunting in Otago, New Zealand. Coulls Somerville Wilkie Limited, Dunedin

PS 18 September 2016

Conor sent a link to this picture of Helen Kirkland Dalrymple

Helen Kirkland Dalrymple [photo University of Otago]

Helen Kirkland Dalrymple [photo University of Otago]

The photo and the comment about her school field trips to the town belt remind me of Ronald Searle’s Belles of St Trinian’s cartoons.

[Ronald Searle , 1951]

[Ronald Searle , 1951]

Sheep milk and boletes

From the Gisborne Herald 20 August 2016:

A slow but certain interest in dairy sheep has started to build throughout New Zealand as some cornerstone corporate farmers cement the industry’s footing as a viable pastoral alternative to traditional land uses. … Globally the dairy sheep market is estimated to be worth US$8 billion at the farm gate …….

The Flock House homstead [photo]

The Flock House homstead [photo]

The summer of ’92

In the summer of 1992-1993, I was living and working at an AgResearch research farm, Flock House, in the Rangitikei. This was a period of massive restructuring in government science organisations and funding. It was the beginning of the modern period where incremental science became a dirty word and it was all about innovation and what would become ‘disruptive’ science.

Lambs on a modern litter system on a Landcorp farm near Taupo [photo Gerard Hutching]

Lambs on a modern litter system on a Landcorp farm near Taupo [photo Gerard Hutching]

One project the organisation was working on was the development of a flock of ewes for milking. To maintain lactation the lambs were removed from the ewes soon after birth. The lambs were kept in a big, covered, concrete-floored yards to which my lab was attached. The floor of the yards had been boxed with slabs of untreated, rough cut Pinus radiata to create a bed that was about 20 cm deep. These beds were then filled with pine wood chips which formed a deep litter system to raise the lambs on. The wood chips absorbed the urine from the lambs.

A flash of yellow

After a few weeks of the lambs being penned on the litter, I saw bright yellow boletes growing on the wood chips. It completely confused me as at that time I only knew boletes to be mycorrhizal and not saprobic on wood. I could not identify it so filed it away.

Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus from Flock House [picture Geoff Ridley]

Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus from Flock House [picture Geoff Ridley]

I’ve seen you before!

That is until 2009 when I saw a picture of Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus in the Field Mycologist (Weightman, 2009). Here was a picture of a bright yellow bolete with the caption: “This painting of Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus is one of the earliest known of this rare species which grows on heaps of old sawdust“. And the text said of it:

Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus (as Boletus sulfureus). An important early illustration of this rarity. It was sent from Brandon, Norfolk, Nov 3, 1876 by Plowright who probably also supplied the comment “from sawdust heaps only seen by Fries himself once”.

Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus by Dr Henry Graves Bull, 1818-1885 [photo Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew]

Searching back through the literature I had to hand I found the comment: “Buchwaldoboletus (Boletaceae). This genus is world-wide although there are only a few constituent members; all grow generally on gymnospermic woods“. (Watling, 2002)

I have no doubt that I found my fungus. Given the bright yellow fruitbody, it is surprising that we don’t see a lot more of this species in New Zealand. Particularly with the use of pine wood chip as garden much. A possibility is that it was the high nitrogen content in the litter from the lambs’ urine that triggered the fungus to fruit.

I also managed to get it into culture and it has survived. It is slow growing and only forms a small mycelium and stains the media dark brown.

Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus culture [photo Geoff Ridley]

Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus culture [photo Geoff Ridley]

Further reading

Hutching G, 1996. New Zealand sheep milk gelato makes it to finals of global dairy awards.

Watling R, 2002. One bolete genus or …? Field Mycology 3: 84-88

Weightman J, 2009. Dr Bull’s paintings of fungi. Field Mycology 10: 113-121. [particularly p. 11]

Mushroom lights

Mushroom lights [from DIY Perks, YouTube]

Mushroom lights [from DIY Perks, YouTube]

 From the files – Jan ‘96

Twenty years ago when I was working for the Forest Health group at the New Zealand Forest Research Institute in Rotorua I received a letter from Frank Blom who lived in Awanui, Northland. Frank said:

In Nov, ’95 I noticed some 50 to 60 ‘glow worms’ on the bark of living Golden Willows in my place on the alluvial flats along the Awanui River.

They were clearly visible 2 to 3m away, but the source of the light could not be found by torchlight. A magnifying-glass however showed tiny mushrooms. By 25th Dec. there were only a few left and I brought one inside by breaking off a piece of bark.

Frank Blom's notes

Frank Blom’s notes


Mushroom lights

I wrote back that it was probably an undescribed species of Mycena and that I was not aware that any of the described New Zealand species were bioluminescent. The closest species, geographically, to New Zealand at that time was Mycena chlorophanus from Queensland.

Mycena chlorophanus [photo ]

Mycena chlorophanus [photo ]

More recently I came across a blog by Anna Chinn who blogged about a night-time excursion to Matawai, near Gisborne in search of glowing tree ferns. In fact, the glow came from a Mycena rotting the dead fronds skirting the trunk of Cyathea smithii. Not only does the mushroom glow but so too does the fungal hyphae growing through the dead frond.

Cyathea smithii [photo Leon Perrie, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa]

Cyathea smithii [photo Leon Perrie, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa]

The Mycena in question goes by the working name of Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ which is the location (Waipori/Crystal Falls, Otago) that it was collected from and first suspected to be a new species. It has been collected from the deep south to the far north. It has been found growing on the ferns Cyathea medullaris, Cyathea smithii, Blechnum sp., on the natives Ripogonum scandens and Metrosideros excelsa, and the exotic Salix fragilis.

Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ [photo Jerry Cooper]

Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ [photo Jerry Cooper]

Fungi at War

In general bioluminescent fungi are not obvious in New Zealand. Ian Hood (1992) wrote:

Fresh Armillaria-decayed wood is bioluminescent and can be seen glowing eerily along bush-tracks on dark nights.

While Peter Buchanan (2006) said of Armillaria decay:

Decayed wood when fresh emits a weak light (bioluminescence), the glow visible in forests on dark nights.

John Ramsbottom in 1923 in A Handbook of the Larger British Fungi wrote about the luminosity of decaying wood. He said that it had been known from classical times and referred by Aristotle. He gave many examples of its use through time but only one really comes close to home when he talks about World War I:

In many places on the Western front during the war our troops found luminous wood useful for putting in the straps of their steel helmets and on the fore-sights of their rifles.

New Zealand soldiers in a front-line trench on the Somme, La Signy Farm, France, 6 April 1918. Sergeant Ormond Burton (Auckland Regiment's official historian who became a prominent Second World War conscientious objector) stands on a firing step in the trench wall [photo Henry Armytage Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library, ref no: 1/2-013092-G]

New Zealand soldiers in a front-line trench on the Somme, La Signy Farm, France, 6 April 1918. Sergeant Ormond Burton (Auckland Regiment’s official historian who became a prominent Second World War conscientious objector) stands on a firing step in the trench wall [photo Henry Armytage Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library, ref no: 1/2-013092-G]

In the New Zealand context, Steven Brightwell (1993) wrote:

World War One soldiers nailed bits of fungus-infested wood to their helmets and bayonets. The phosphorescent fungi, glowing faintly in the dark, provided enough light to enable the soldiers to avoid collisions in the trenches, but not enough to make them targets for the enemy.

I haven’t been able to find any direct reference to this practice by New Zealand troops – if you have let me know where.

A good account of bioluminescence in fungi is given by Brian Perry at MykoWeb.


Brightwell, S 1993. Feasting on fungi. New Zealand Geographic 18 (June): 34-58

Buchanan, P 2006. Fungal Biodiversity. In Parsons, S., Blanchon, D., Buchanan, P., Clout, M., Galbraith, M., Weihong, J., Macdonald, J., Walker, M, Wass, R, 2006. Biology Aotearoa. Pearson Education New Zealand. ISBN 1 877268 00 3. Pp  72-83

Hood, I 1993. An illustrated guide to fungi on wood in New Zealand. Auckland University Press.

PS 14/08/2016

Here is Taylor Lockwood’s photo of Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ that Jerry Cooper mentions in his comment below.

Mycena 'Crystal Falls' [photo Taylor Lockwood]

Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ [photo Taylor Lockwood]