Friday, May 13, 2011

Soaking Your Fungus

Turning my apartment into a Natural History Museum has led to the introduction of some potentially unsavory species into my downtown habitat. The ant farms never sealed properly, the bird's nests probably needed better delousing, I've seen evidence of dermestids in the specimen cases and who knows what kind of spores the fungi in the open-air terrarium are releasing. The OMNH has containment issues; too many interesting samples, not enough jars.
The photo above is of a 13" bracket fungus that has been in the Museum for a year now. I noticed that there was an ever-growing pile of black powder beneath it a while back. And because I am a Complete Scientist, I shrugged and didn't think too much of it. But when I noticed that the piles were growing and also writhing with movement I decided to look into it.
I took the offending fungus and isolated it on my drawing table. I shook out a bunch of the dried material from its interior, hoping for a better look at the insects that were sharing my apartment with me. But they are tiny creatures, and with my glasses en route from Dawson City and my magnifying glass put in some special, forgotten place I couldn't see them well. But if they were content to stay inside the fungus, then I was content to let them.
I mapped their movements for a couple days, thusly:

It became clear that while most of the insects were slow-moving and not particularly adventurous, the outliers were finding their way to the edges of the table and beyond. What's a Museum Curator to do when his exhibits are trundling toward the kitchen? Entomb them inside the fungus with workable fixatif or lacquer? Seal them in a bag filled with ethyl acetate vapour?
I decided to put the insects inside a spare aquarium and siphon a sink-full of water into it like a Bond villain, setting the water flowing down a narrow tube and leaving for work, certain that my slow doom would settle on them. I'll never know how many of the fungus-dwellers made it out of the trap alive. But my method of dispatching them had the unintended effect of making a beautiful image to come home to; as the fungus was left soaking, it turned the water a brilliant, tannin red.

The bracket fungi will return to the shelves once they're done drying, hopefully without any of their little friends. Kaufman's Field to the Insects of North America was no real help in identifying the beetles and the Internet told me that there are hundreds of species that eat, lay eggs or live inside bracket fungi.

So I'm content to leave them unidentified until I fall victim to some mysterious illness. Please, when I'm hospitalized, refer the doctors to this blog. They will need samples of all the weird shit in my home in order to track down the likely source of my malady.