My start to the day was unconventional and a little unpleasant. I woke to find that my flotation device had somehow become wrapped around my neck, so that I was breathing in vinyl. Having disentangled myself, I discovered that a family of mites had made a nest in the hem of my trousers. I popped as many of the tiny scurrying arachnids as I could and then doused my trouser ends in paraffin.
Fortunately, since this, my day has got considerably better. I took my small rowing boat out to the furthermost island and discovered a curious structure.
Those who saw a previous blog of mine about Volvox, will be familiar with the idea of singular organisms working as a society. Less common is when organisms of different species work together. Lichen is one example of this; what I discovered today on the island, is another.
As you can see from my sketch, a number of plants and fungi grow in different chambers or on nodules, evenly spaced around the uppermost part. There is not a single repeated organism and no sign of competition for space between the different species, as might be expected.
The reason I call this a colony, and the reason I believe the harmony between the species is not an accident; is that these organisms aren’t growing on rock, but a giant fungus. It has the consistency of florist foam, slightly squishy when pressed, but able to maintain a firm shape. The fibres connecting the fungus to the ground are mycelium, the fungal equivalent of roots.
Plants don’t usually succeed in growing on fungus, so I can only assume that this fungus has especially adapted to cultivate them. The fungus has essentially created a farm, with a number of different plant and fungus species fed by the host, which in turn create detritus that can be broken down and fed on.
I have never seen a colony such as this before and I suspect it is a phenomenon unknown to science. If I hadn’t seen it, I would have strongly doubted its existence. However, I am not the first person to have discovered it, in the soft surface of the fungus, I found a number of hand prints. Presumably the locals are more comfortable with visiting than they let on.