Yes, the cage fungus smells like rotting flesh, but it does so on purpose. The stench attracts flies, which the fungus needs in order to reproduce. Not only does the brown slime that drips inside the lattice stink, it’s also full of the mushroom’s spores. This stinky oozing substance is gleba, which is a term you may know thanks to an episode of Friends. Rachel is convinced that Emma’s first word is “gleba” and looks it up in the dictionary. When she reads the definition that it’s “the fleshy spore-bearing mass of a certain fungi,” Ross is convinced Emma is going to be a scientist. The short, visceral video below about this stinky fungus will have you rattling off fun facts and using obscure words like a scientist in no time.
The explainer video, which we first saw on Boing Boing, is from KQED, a PBS station in San Francisco. Videos on their Deep Look YouTube channel include other fun facts about the world around us. For instance, that water bugs that breathe out of their butts and barnacle penises are eight times as long as their body. There’s a lot of gross insect content, so this fungus and fly friendship fits the theme.
In the case of cage fungi, the flies its stench attracts are essential to moving spores to new places so the fungus can spread. Each one of these brightly colored mushrooms emerges from the ground and opens within only a few hours. It also dries out and closes again after only about a day. But that’s just what you see on the surface. Like most fungi, there’s a whole network under the ground.
Scientists are studying how the mycelial network works, signaling when and where the mushrooms should emerge above ground. Do fungus have a language? If so, what is the cage fungus’ word for gleba?
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.