Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

columnar aggregations of synnematal conidiomata/ mold

from the December 6, 2015 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

This week the weather has been about perfect, not too hot, not too chilly, and only an occasional little sprinkle in the afternoons. Normally it's good to have a rain every few days but here at the end of the rainy season there's such lush greenness that we're ready for fall-type wildflowers to add their yellows and white to the roadsides, and it'd be good for things to dry out a little.

Different from most of the year, this is a good time to see fungi, most of which need high humidity. For example, below, look at the white, moldy spots on a log that's been lying in the shade next to my hut:


In that picture, in the top, right corner, along the log's lower side, notice how the white material appears to be suspended atop many slender filaments. A close-up of part of that population is shown at the top of this page.

That enchanted forest of fungus shows a kind of Ascomycetes fungus reproducing asexually. To start understanding that, first we might recall that in the forest sometimes when we separate two plastered-together leaves on the forest floor we find white thread-like filaments fanning across the blades' surfaces. Those white filaments are the bodies of fungi soaking up moisture and nutrients from the decomposing leave's surfaces, and they're known as hyphae (singular hypha). Mushrooms are formed from underground hyphae and are the hyphae's fruiting bodies, not the main fungus. The fungus's "body" is the network of hyphae.

Knowing what hyphae are, we can say that in the enchanted forest picture the trunk of each "tree" is a special kind of hypha called a conidiophore, the word conidiophore just meaning "bearer of conidia." And conidia are basically microscopic bits of hyphae that break off or bud from the tips of hyphae bodies, with no sexual activity involved. When conidia are transported -- usually by wind -- to moist and otherwise favorable environments, they grow into regular hyphae.

After taking the enchanted forest picture I blew a puff of air onto the forest, and a white cloud burst from it and drifted on a breeze into the real forest beside us. The cloud consisted of untold thousands of microscopic conidia budded from the tips of the many branches visible in the picture. This is how fungi can turn up in so many places seemingly spontaneously, for the air -- especially our soggy, late-rainy-season air -- is simply loaded with conidia.

About 1,500 genera of conidia-producing fungi are recognized, and some 30,000 species of them have been described, with these numbers increasing rapidly, so you might guess that I can't identify the species in our photos. Technically, we can say that our enchanted forest pictures show "columnar aggregations of synnematal conidiomata," so maybe with those key words appearing in this writing, some future, search-engine-using specialist with find our report, and identify our fungus for us.

from the December 6, 2015 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

In this greenhouse-like air, decaying logs aren't the only places white mold shows up. This week I wanted to look at a bird but when I retrieved my binoculars from the hut, where they'd hung unused for about two weeks, they were in the condition shown below:

moldy binoculars

That's white mold, or fungus, dusting them, and notice that the mold even extends onto the glass lenses.

Because white mold is so common and often destructive, entire websites are dedicated just to white mold. From these I learn that the types most commonly seen in homes include: Penicillium, which often appears bluish-green and white; Aspergillus, which can also appear yellow or green, and; Cladosporium.

Despite the fact that interesting bird migrants are still filtering in after journeying from the North's approaching winter, my binoculars had been hanging unused on a wall in the hut for two weeks because they have become practically useless. Images seen through them appear to be viewed through thick oil -- dim and with pale halos. I assume that this is caused by many years of accumulated fungus damage to the surfaces of lenses and prisms, both inside the binoculars and out. Here in the humid tropics binoculars and cameras just lose their ability to form sharp images.

Mold found on glass is most likely growing on organic compounds in the lenses' coatings, not the glass itself. However, apparently when molds produce chemicals to break down organic compounds, the chemicals can etch glass, causing real damage.

You can imagine what's happening with my clothing, books... and computer.