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22-28 June 2001

Drawing: Hummingbird & FlowerDON'T MISS

Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center, again will offer his entertaining and informative "Hummingbird Mornings" at Carolinas locales in July & August 2001. Click on the hummingbird drawing at left for details.

Pee-yew, Must Be A Stinkhorn!

Sometimes when we go to the woods around Hilton Pond Center, we're delighted by odors that waft across our nostrils: the strong, sweet perfume of the Catalpa tree blossom; the rich smell of soil and humus where an Eastern Chipmunk just extended its burrow; or the aromatic oils given off by Eastern Red Cedars on warm summer days. Each of these odors is a pleasure, and each triggers an almost-lost memory of a time long ago when we experienced that very same odor at some very different place.

Occasionally, however, a stench flares our nostrils and we jerk back our head the way we respond to a loud noise, saying "What was that!?" Such was the case along the trail this week when we got close to an Elegant Stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans). The odor of this organism was so powerful we smelled it well before we saw it, and the closer we got the less doubt we had about how appropriately it had been named.

Elegant Stinkhorn

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

Stinkhorns are a family of mushrooms (the Phallaceae, for their resemblance to a phallus) with varied shapes and colors, but one thing they have in common is a fetid odor reminiscent of rotting flesh. This odor attracts all sorts of scavengers such as flies (photo above), beetles, and even small mammals. To these animals, a stinkhorn probably smells like ambrosia, and they wallow around in pungent ooze the fungus produces. In the process, of course, the scavengers pick up spores that eventually get transferred elsewhere, thus assuring that the stinkhorn populates more distant locales.

Elegant StinkhornThe Elegant Stinkhorn starts out as a white globe just below the soil surface. This structure--sometimes called a "Witch's Egg"--bursts open when conditions are right, and from within it forms an inch-wide orange stalk. The stinkhorn stalk grows incredibly fast, shooting up to a height of about six inches in half a day or less. Speedy growth occurs from the rapid take-up of water and because individual cells of the stinkhorn are so big they can be seen by the naked eye (above left); cells this large require few cell divisions. And, since the stalk is hollow, the stinkhorn only has to make tissue a few cells thick.

Although stinkhorns typically occur in rich, moist soil, some species are so prevalent in plant mulch they become a problem for genteel gardeners with sensitive nostrils. There's nothing like sprucing up the backyard and inviting neighbors over for a cookout, only to find that a dozen stinkhorns have erupted overnight and are producing nauseating odor strong enough to overpower the aroma of hickory smoked hamburgers!

Fortunately for the neighbors, stinkhorns grow fast but are very short-lived. We discovered the one on this page about half grown at 8 a.m., and by the time we got back with a camera at 10:30 a.m. it was already full-sized and beginning to droop. By late afternoon it had collapsed completely--probably due in part to the fact that beetles had eaten holes through the base of the hollow stalk (right). Next morning there was only a small puddle of brown goo where the stinky stinkhorn once stood.

It's times like this we really wish "This Week at Hilton Pond" had a scratch-and-sniff capability so we could share the distinctive odor of Elegant Stinkhorn with everyone who browses our Web site. For the moment, you'll just have to trust us when we say Eau de Stinkhorne isn't likely to show up at the perfume counter of your local department store-- unless it happens to cater to skunks, Turkey Vultures, and Carrion Beetles. As a friend of ours once asked, "Stinkhorns are edible mushrooms, but why on earth would anybody want to eat one?"

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo
(Young birds have brownish-red eyes
that usually change to ruby in adults)

The following species were banded this week (22-28 June):

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--1*
Red-eyed Vireo--1*
Northern Cardinal--1*
Wood Thrush--1
Carolina Wren--1*
Eastern Bluebird--1
Tufted Titmouse--1*
House Finch--33*

* = At least one Recent Fledgling


Northern Cardinal fledgling

Northern Cardinal (fledgling)
(Like most species, the gape in young cardinals is soft and yellow)

(22-28 June 2001)
8 species
40 individuals

63 species
711 individuals
(since 28 June 1982)
122 species
38,994 individuals

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush
(Most years, a pair nests at 11-acre Hilton Pond Center, but in 2001
ere are at least two pairs)

Northern Cardinal (1)
Eastern (Rufous-sided) Towhee (1)
House Finch (1)

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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Made With MacintoshHilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this website, contact: WEBMASTER.