Recently my Blogging colleague "Boobook" (whose Blog is called "Bushranger") published some photos of "Eyelash Fungi" she found on some Kangaroo dung. I mentioned in my comment upon her post on her Blog that I had seen a similar species on wet, rotten wood in the Robertson Nature Reserve (Scutellinia scutellata). I have tonight sent her a clarification that they are likely a different (but related) species from the ones I had found (previously). I was able to clarify that because of today's "find" - a new species for me. JL will understand that reference.
Today I found these tiny specimens on two neatly placed (side by side) pieces of animal dung. The scats (dung) were approximately 50 mm (2 inches) long and 30 mm (1.5 inches) long respectively. These scats were lying on Eucalypt leaves which had blown into this patch of Melaleuca forest. The leaves might be Viola hederacea.I am not an expert on "scats". Some people are. But these seem to me to be likely to be Wallaby (or Potoroo) droppings. They are definitely not from Wombats (different shape). I wondered about fox scats, but usually those are thinner and have bits of bone or fur in them. They also tend to have pointed ends (the fur content refusing to break easily). These scats were not like those Fox scats in that linked image. So, I shall settle for describing today's specimens as the dung of an unknown (small) herbivore.
It is worth mentioning that the area where I was is in a dense Melaleuca thicket, surrounded by even denser mats of intertwined Coral Fern, which is very difficult for large animals (including me) to get through. But the coral fern patches have many low track through them, and many signs of Wombats. These low tracks (almost tunnels) would suit Swamp Wallabies as well, but make access difficult for Kangaroos.
In the interest of science (and for Mick who likes things to help her assess the "scale" of small things when I show Macro photos) I took this image with the tip of my thumb visible. These fungi are tiny, by most standards. I know a vast number of fungi are genuinely microscopic (yeasts and such like, which are generally invisible to the human eye). But in the world of "macro-fungi" these specimens are about as small as one normally sees (or notices). Place your left thumb on the screen where my thumbnail is, and you will realise that this image is about 3 times life size. Remembering that, you will realise that today's fungi were only about 2 mm wide. The largest ones perhaps were 3 mm in diameter.
The first thing I tried to ascertain was the exact shape of these fungi. Were they little orange "balls"? No! I have previously seen minute, rounded yellowish fungi on minute stalks. (Click to see the details of the shape of these ball fungi in larger size). You will see that these fungi are different from today's flat-topped fungi.That is someone holding a 10 power hand lens to examine these minute ball fungi. These are possibly related to the Nectria species illustrated by Heino Lepp from the National Herbarium website here.
Today's Fungi turned out to be nearly flat topped. Some look slightly convex, but mostly they look concave in shape (depressed in the middle). I started to see (from the camera screen, when I "reviewed" the images in the field) that these were "Eyelash Fungi".
Once I realised that, I quickly grabbed my trusty 10 power hand lens, and confirmed that observation. I knew I had to get very close images indeed.
In the next image you can begin to see the "eyelash" feature from which they gain their common name. If you click this next image to enlarge it to its full size, you can actually see many immature Fungi just emerging from the dung pellet (on the left of the image). Already their fibrous "eyelashes" are visible. It makes me want to go back on Monday or Tuesday, to see if the whole scat has become covered in these orange fungi.
Winding out the Camera lens to near its maximum, gives me close to a 10 power magnification. My beloved Macro lens setup (a 60mm Macro lens with 1.6 Teleconverter) can go in closer, but then the flash "overshoots" the object. I need to get myself a proper high mounted flash, not the standard little "pop-up" flash on my Nikon. It is very dark in this Melaleuca thicket - nearly 80% shade, and anyway, with the Macro set-up I have, flash is generally necessary, if one wishes to see real detail on the computer screen.
This is as close as I can get (with the flash operational). It is about 10 times magnification. The minute fibres (they look like hairs, but of course are not) around the edge of the Fungus are clearly visible at this level of magnification.
So, while today's Fungi appear much the same size as the one illustrated below, that is a factor of a different lens. That is why it is useful that the thumbnails give you some guide to real sizes.
This image below is of the previous "Eyelash Fungi" I had seen in the Robertson Nature Reserve in April 2007. This one was growing on wood, not on animal dung. This image shows another person holding a small stick with the Eyelash Fungus growing on it. My memory is that this was about 1 cm across, but in truth it is probably about 6 or 7 mm across (judging by the fingernail scale). Also it is on a different substrate (wood, not dung) as discussed already. Incidentally, that image above was taken with a standard lens, and has approximately 3 power magnification, whereas the today's closest image is a Macro shot, with about 10 power magnification. So, in conclusion that "Eyelash Fungus" on the piece of wood is about 3 times as large as my Eyelash Fungi found today, on the dung.
I can not find any accessible Australian references to a smaller species of Scutellinia fungi. But I can find an international reference to one smaller species of Scutellinia. I have no idea if this species has been recorded in Australia, but the reference says: Also known as "Scutellinia erinaceus," Scutellinia setosa is even smaller than Scutellinia scutellata, with a maximum width of 3 mm. That fits with my observations, today, and Boobook's specimens of 24 July.