Category: science

The local graveyard is such a good place to lo…

The local graveyard is such a good place to look for lichens.

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The pink stuff is a lichenicolous fungus – a f…

The pink stuff is a lichenicolous fungus – a fungus which grows exclusively on lichen.

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microcosmicobservations:I saw and took picture…


I saw and took pictures of Cordyceps militaris and didn’t even realize it until I was going through the pictures a few weeks later! Cordyceps militaris is an awesome mushroom that parasitizes insect larva. If you’ve never been exposed to Cordyceps before I encourage you to read up on it (and google some of the cool, if morbid, photos).

Note the insect larva poking out of the soil at the back (on the left)

Beautiful reticulate stem of a bolete – 9/17 a…

Beautiful reticulate stem of a bolete – 9/17 at Hemlock Bluffs, North Carolina

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Undergraduate advice post for naturey sciencey…

First, let me tell you about myself so you can decide if you want to listen to my advice. I have never felt comfortable boxing myself into a 5 year plan. I impulsively dropped out of college three times from three different schools before finally sticking at one long enough to get my bachelor’s degree when I was 27. I am 30 years old now with no savings and a pile of student loans. But! My work has led me to several states, even as far as the southern tip of Chile. I’ve been offered many positions over the more educated, more experienced applicants because the interviewers could feel the passion oozing out of me. I have had many rewarding experiences due to my flexibility.

With that, here is what I wish I would have known/done during my undergraduate that will hopefully help some of you out:

  • Prioritize classes that give you the opportunity to get hands-on experience – be it lab classes or project-based classes. These types of classes are more work, but they provide you with experience and knowledge that are harder to replicate outside of school.
  • Pay attention to your fears and weaknesses and FACE THEM. Ignoring them isn’t going to make them go away. It’s better to deal with them during your undergrad than during your career or in grad school.
  • Don’t stress too much about making the right decision. I know my ability to take such a wandering path is rooted in privilege, but still – 

    you are almost never locked into one decision forever. Relax. Have fun.

  • Investigate dream jobs or graduate positions that you’d like to go for once you graduate and note what they’re looking for in an applicant, then take classes that will give you that. If I would have done this, I would have absolutely taken GIS classes.
  • Get registered with your school’s disability office if you have any physical or mental disabilities. Traditional classrooms can make you feel like you’re not worth much if you can’t fit in with the mainstream style of learning, but damn it your input into this world is valuable and the world is so much stronger if we have people of all types working together. It is your university’s responsibility to accommodate you.
  • Network as much as possible, especially if you are planning on going to grad school. As a socially anxious introvert, I can’t really give much advice on how to do this, but every professor I got to know during my undergrad became invaluable to me.
  • Your mental health is always more important than school. ALWAYS. You matter more than any of this.

More advice under the fold!

@pyridine Research experience is invaluable. If your GPA is above 3.0 (which is the cut off for most graduate programs), I don’t think you’ll have any trouble. Even if it’s below 3.0, you still have a decent shot if you connect with a professor you’d like to research with, and they see your potential. I got into one grad school entirely because I’d done my independent research with one of the professors there, and the professor at the other grad school decided he wanted me before he even saw my transcript, simply because he saw how passionate I was. I have no doubt that you will be okay.

I don’t have study tips except using the pomodoro timer (Google it).

@flamingfeathers During your undergraduate is the best time to experiment with different career paths because universities provide great opportunities and resources for people who have little prior experience. See what’s being offered by your university and don’t be afraid to try something new that interests you. Get involved with different labs, even by volunteering. You can read up on different career paths all you want, but in my opinion you won’t really know you like something until you try it.

@legendofpotter I agree completely! Everything feels so big and scary when you’re at school, and you really don’t want to screw up, but you’re there to learn and grow.

I made a video from my hike yesterday. Featuri…

I made a video from my hike yesterday. Featuring: lichen (Peltigera, Ramalina, and others), moss, and me being excited about things! Please join me. 🙂


Whenever I speak affectionately on why I love and am so enchanted by lichen, I mention how fascinating it is that it’s a composite organism, something you hesitate to call a single species because it is actually made up of several species from different kingdoms.

Today in one of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, someone shared the work of a biologist, Dr. Scott Gilbert, who has written about how the idea of the “biological individual” is a myth which overly simplifies research on not only evolutionary biology but also immunology, anatomy, physiology, etc. In his 2012 paper “The Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals,” he aims to show that “animals cannot be considered individuals by anatomical, or physiological criteria, because a diversity of symbionts are both present and functional in completing metabolic pathways and serving other physiological functions. Similarly, these new studies have shown that animal development is incomplete without symbionts.”

Maybe this isn’t as mind-blowing to people who are more involved with animal-focused research, but as someone with a botanical/mycological background I am very much enjoying thinking about this and its implications. I, like lichen, am not a single species but a collection of organisms symbiotically existing as part of the same whole. I am not an individual but rather an ecosystem.



Convergent evolution is one of my favorite topics to think about. In this video, I give you a brief introduction to the evolution of similar traits in species that aren’t closely related. You can see this throughout the natural world, and it’s amazing to think about how some really specialized traits – like carnivorous plants! – could have evolved multiple times.

Hi, I hope your snow-day is going well! I have…

Hi, I hope your snow-day is going well! I have two questions. Is there a specific mushroom you feel a very strong connection to? And, do you have some general information about mushrooms or lichen that frequent frigid/frozen environments? Cheers!

Okay, after an unexpected 3 hour nap (D:) I’m back to answer more questions! I have two fungi that I really love a lot, for similar reasons. First is Calostoma cinnabarinum, which I made a whole video on.

Second is Pseudohydnum gelatinosum:

I like both of them because they are squishy, and well, squishy things are great.  (Is that scientific enough?)

As far as lichens that frequent frigid temps: the two most important factors controlling their ranges are light and moisture. Lichens are very good at going dormant, and many species are able to withstand frigid temperatures. Here’s a cool article detailing the lichens growing in Antarctica.

Mushrooms, on the other hand, have different physiologies than lichen. I am planning on making a video soon on what species to look out for in northeastern United States during the winter, and your question reminded me to get off my butt and work on that.

Thank you for the questions!



Is it true that scientists have never been able to cultivate Lichen in a lab? And that it essentially remains a mystery in terms of its component biology? I read it somewhere but never took the time to confirm that.

Scientists have been unable to successfully synthesize lichens in the lab using the algae and fungi that typically form those species. There are still some mysteries about the components – it’s definitely not as simple as the duality previously considered. Recent research has revealed that yeasts could be a big part of it, even bacteria. Actually, while making sure that I wasn’t just feeding you a bunch of lies I found this cool paper that looks into lichen’s bacterial association.