Tag Archives: Science

The night I first saw bioluminescent mushrooms

Back in the day I was obsessed with StumbleUpon.

(In case you haven’t heard of this amazing website: you sign up, add all the topics you are interested in, and click “stumble” on the top of the page. This magical click shoots you across the interwebs one at a time to bring you to most amazingly random websites you could ever come across).

On one of this clicks, StumbleUpon revealed one of the greatest blogs I’ve ever seen. It was a post of organisms that glowed in the dark!

I recognized fireflies (who hasn’t) and some other insects, but there was one that was completely new to me: bioluminescent fungi.

Yes. Mushrooms (and/or mycelium for you fun-guys) that glow in the dark. These organisms have the ability to actually produce and release photons, little tiny pieces of light.

Now, this was also in my days of being fascinated with psychedelics, specifically mushrooms. (Side note: don’t eat bioluminescent mushrooms. It will not be fun!) Maybe this isn’t completely relevant, but it just made this new discovery THAT much more exciting.

psychedelic mushroom house in mystical landIt completely baffled me that mushrooms somehow evolved to light up in the dark. Someday, I promised myself, I will meet these in person.

Fast forward to 2012, I decided to study abroad on a teeny tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. While I was here, I had to find something in the ecosystem to do a research project on. Our professor took us all over the island to explore and learn more about all the plants and animals that lived here. The land was gorgeous, but nothing quite stuck out to me enough to study.

A month into program and days before I had to start my research, our professor took us to a giant BBQ party with locals that we had befriended so far. I was mingling with the crowd and overheard someone mention the word “glowing.” Well that sounds fun, I thought to myself and I detoured off my social wandering pattern and found a nearby chair.

She, a turtle biologist, was sharing the time she was at the beach and didn’t start walking back thru the forest to her car until later at night. On her path, she noticed something was lit up on the jungle floor. She told the story about how she first saw glowing mushrooms at the beach that we all frequently went to.

IS IT POSSIBLE THAT MY BIOLOGICAL MUSE COULD BE SO CLOSE?!?!

I got goosebumps. Truthbumps, as my friend says. Shivers as I was sitting in the tropics listening to her recollection.

This. Will. Be. My. Project.

…but wow! What a challenge to convince my professors over the next several days. I mean, they were stoked for me…but it always came down to “How are you supposed to research something that you’ve never seen?” Well…it’s possible in other fields, but not for an ecologist.

On multiple occasions, I actually got the help from my classmates and a few locals to go out searching for the elusive glowing mushrooms. They are glowing! How hard could it be to find them?! Apparently harder than I thought it would be. I felt so discouraged…and honestly a little embarrassed that I got SO excited at something so unlikely to actually happen.

That night driving home in the car I saw a mushroom-shaped cloud floating across the island. Confirmation bias? NO WAY! It was the mushroom gods telling me to keep going.

One of our friends who worked for the Department of Fish and Wildlife called me the next day and said that he wanted to take us to one more place that he thought would be a great location:

  • good rainfall = tells the fungi that it’s time to make mushrooms AKA baby-making time!
  • thick understory = captures humidity, cools tropical environment, and provides LOTS of organic matter for food (leaves, soil, logs etc.)

Off we went! This section of the jungle was THICK. The kind of path that asks for a machete if you have one.

It was humid and hot, just barely after sunset. We were all being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Bouncing headlamps lead my way down the path as several more were close behind me. I couldn’t tell how far we walked or where we were going. It was beautiful at nighttime, but also a little terrifying.

I heard someone scream my name, “COME HERE, NOW!” I turned around and headed back where I just came from. My classmate was kneeling down a few meters off the path at a tree trunk, sprinkled with glowing specks at the base.

bioluminescent fungi mycena chlorophos

At this moment I was overcome by deep stillness and silence. There are few things are have truly taken my breath away. This one tops them all. I slowly started to walk at the glowing mushroom garden in awe and reverence.

The best way I can describe this experience is like being outside alone and looking up a night sky. A night sky that looks darker than usual with brighter stars than a normal night.

On a superficial layer, I knew that I could research them now that I’ve found some in real life. But on a deeper level, I would be forever changed. Being in the presence of any sort of biological or artistic oddity is fun in the moment and even throughout the rest of the day. But these ephemeral moments don’t compare to seeing something that resonates so deep inside.

It’s this feeling, this experience that connects people with the natural world. It’s these types of experiences that deepen human adventure. And it’s for these reasons that I continue to travel and explore the world.

bioluminscent mushrooms in the dark

 

What is ‘Lit Life’?

Hello!

I’m going to put energy into a new project called “Lit Life” It’s going to be a fun way for you to be mystified and entertained about bioluminescence–animals and fungus that GLOW IN THE FRIGGIN’ DARK.

Although this is getting fueled and inspired by a class project, it’s also a way for me to reflect back 5 years ago when I studied abroad and research glowing mushrooms. I’ve always felt like some story was left untold…

 

Bioluminescent fungi! Panelllus stipticus

 

So anywho, if you are interested, stick around over the next few weeks to learn about my experience researching bioluminescent fungi and to learn more about some of these cRaZy creatures:

bioluminscent jellyfish
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Jelly fish swim, Aug. 20, in a Alaska SeaLife Center aquarium. (U.S. Air Force photo/David Bedard)

 

 

 

 

Where to escape in a city:

“It’s not a city, it’s the suburbs,” says my narrow-minded, ignorant family member.

When I️ can only make out the Big Dipper and Orion at night, when the streetlights keeping me up at night are brighter than the sun peaking over the morning horizon, when the buzz of traffic is constantly evident…I’m in a city.

It’s not your fault though…you don’t know what it’s like to live in a rustic cabin with no WiFi or to have to gather your own firewood and start a fire every night. You don’t know what the world looks like behind your 65-inch TV or your 4-inch iPhone and you certainly don’t know that “leisure” and “outdoors” can go together without an agenda.

The only other human at this artificial lake is a boy. Someone dropped him off just after I️ arrived so that he could fish. I️ think he is catching some, but I’m also hearing a handful jump out of the water in front of me.

Nature is refreshing, like a glass of ice-cold water for a red-hot angry mind.

Some people use the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to unofficially describe the impacts of a lack of slow-paced quality outdoor time.

Irritability, fear, apathy, confusion, and anxiety make their way into my “normalness” when I️ skip the parks and forest hikes for mindless modern-day entertainment. It clouds around me like a swarm of stickiness. I️ think that it’s normal…but it’s not. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Sometimes it just takes a stop by the park to shift me back into a more satisfying way of being alive: patience, relaxation, and imagination.

Luckily I️ am just visiting this massive “suburb.” For getting an afternoon date with myself at the park here is like getting to eat a carrot or two after fasting all morning. I️ am malnourished being here, but luckily I️ know what I️ need to feel satiated.

4 High-Impact Choices You Can Make That Will Positively Affect The World

Sometimes science articles are awesome to read. This one touches close to my heart.

“The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions”

Summary

There are “low,” “moderate,” and “high”-impact choices that an individual can make if they want to lower their carbon footprint. Historically, governments and schools across the world recommend people to take “low” or “moderate”-impact choices (if we’re lucky). Examples of these include recycling and changing to more energy-efficient light bulbs.

This paper says that high-impact choices are:

  1. Having one fewer child
  2. Living car-free
  3. Avoiding air travel
  4. Eating a plant-based diet

These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (four times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (eight times less).

Check out the article here.