October Mushroom Week, day four: The Fascinating Lobster Mushroom

Lobster Mushroom

The Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum) is a parasite. It needs a host, usually Russula or Lactarius. It covers the host with pimply, orange (orange-red, purple-red, sometimes yellow-red) tissue. It transforms the host mushroom into a firm, thick-gilled fungus.

We found this one, enveloping a Russula brevipes (short-stemmed Russula) along the Drift Creek Falls Trail last weekend. After looking up the Russula, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it. Not because it had a parasite, but because it is much hated.

Russula brevipes

The broad cap pushes up the duff in a way that makes Bolete-lovers salivate. When they lift the needles and leaves to find a plain old, not-so-yummy Russula, their disappointment leads them to label the poor little brevipes “mundane”, “tedious”, even “vulgar”.

I found the common mushrooms beautiful with creamy gills and dirty, broad convex cap and curled under margins.  They were fun to discover poking up from under the fir needles. But they were dazzling in their red Hypomyces lactifluorum armor. Delicious, too.

I get just about all my information about species and identification from Mushrooms Demystified (Arora, 1979). General mushroom knowledge from Mycelium Running (Stamets, 2005).


Nature Lessons: Parasitic Wood Wasps

Meet Ichneumonidae. We thought these strange insects were related to dragonflies at first. But I looked closely and saw their faces and general look were very wasp-like.


This is the male wasp. He showed up first. The males wait for the females to find this log and lay eggs in the larvae of the horn-tail wasps. Thanks for letting us know what’s inside! Luckily, this post is not load-bearing and is  temporary.


The males are big. About 2.5 inches. The female is huge: 3.5 or so. She has a long ovipositor that looks like a ferocious stinger. Intimidating but not aggressive. She showed up a few days later and started carefully exploring the post, tapping and moving along slowly. There were dozens of males to a handful of females.


When she found the spot where the larvae were snuggled, she started drilling into the wood with her ovipositor. Her rear end sort of flipped inside-out and the ovipositor forked on either side of her abdomen. (The pictures would be better had I not been completely freaked out by the sight of her!)


The drill took only 5-10 minutes.

laying eggs

Then she deposited her eggs in the horn-tail wasp’s larvae. And took off. The males buzzed around for days afterward, waiting for the young females to emerge. We missed the hatching, sadly.

male 2

So many little (and big) wonders to see and learn from surround us.

End of lesson.