Thursday, 18 February 2016

Microscopic Incident

On Sunday, I collected a cup of a Sarcoscypha Sp (Scarlet/Ruby Elfcup) in order to identify it. Examining the spores and tomentum, yesterday, it proved to be S. austriaca again, which given that it was growing in a willow thicket, wasn't really a surprise.

I cut some sections, to form a squash, for the purposes of examining the tomentum and in the sections could be seen a few of the tens or hundreds of thousands of spore shooting tubes (asci) that the ascomycete fungi have and from which they derive their collective descriptive epiphet, 'Spore Shooters'.

The asci (spore shooting tubes) with their ascospores can be seen embedded
in the pinkish mass of fibres which makes up the inner red part of the cup.

Panning about, I found this ascus which had separated from the flesh and was fully exposed.

The ascus with its cargo of ascospores, prior to discharge. x200

 Hand holding my digital compact to the eyepiece, I took a couple of unremarkable photos,  and then changed to my measuring eyepiece to measure it. That done, I looked away to grab my camera for another shot, with the graticule in place, but when I lined it up on the eyepiece, I could see that something had changed. I took the photos, then took a look through the eyepieces. The ascus had gone from its position in line with the graticule scale and was now lying at the top of the field of view, completely empty , its outer end torn open, while down at the bottom of the field, lay a couple of ascospores, the rest being outside of the field of view.

A few seconds later, it is empty and had been shot to the top of the field.
A couple of the ascospores it once contained lie at the lower end of the scale.

In the five seconds or so it took me to pick up my camera and line it up with the eyepiece, the ascus had violently discharged its contents, just as it would have done in nature, but in that case, instead of water, it would have shot them into the air, to be distributed by air currents.

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