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Stinkhorn Fungus & Badgers

18/10/2007

The stinkhorn fungus looks like a phallus and smells like a dead animal. This smell attracts blow flies which feed on a gel at the top of the fungus. The gel has.....

sugars in it as well as fungal spores. The Stinkhorn reproduces by spores. The blow-flies feed on the gel and take up some spores. They then spread the fungal spores through their droppings and off their body hairs. The flies benefit by getting food; the Stinkhorn spreads it spores.
The blow flies frequently enter into badger's burrows, called setts, and when they do this they spread the fungus to the roots of trees growing over the sett. The stinkhorn, of course, feeds on the roots of the trees. Down in the badger's sett the flies come across dead badgers which they lay eggs on. It has been estimated that one dead badger can give rise to 65,000 thousand blow flies. So the flies benefit again, the fungi benefit by getting dispersed by the flies to suitable habitats, and the badgers benefit by having the flies efficiently remove their dead.
This is called a 3 way interphylitic mutualism. Further reading: Journal of Natural History: 1997, 31, 983 - 992. Sleeman, Jones, Cronin.
The story with the Japanese moles and fungi is similar.
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Keep an eye out for the Stinkhorn fungus and Fly Agaric and enter your sightings into the Nature's Calendar map click on the Nature's Calendar tab at the top of the page and click on Submit your sighting - there you will find Autumn Watch.
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Text © Paul Whelan, 2007.