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Stinkhorn: a fly’s delight

September 27, 2012

The stinkhorn mushroom, aptly named for its offensive fragrance and stalklike form, is a member of a family of fungi known as Phallaceae. Stinkhorns are characterized by very unpleasant-smelling sticky spore masses that occur on the end of a stalk called the receptaculum.

Likened to the odor of carrion or dung, the spore mass attracts flies and other insects. While feeding on the slime, the insects’ feet become coated with the spore-laden substance that they then transport to other locations, allowing the stinkhorns to grow elsewhere.

While body structures may vary, all Phallaceae species begin development as oval or round structures known as eggs, which reveal layers of slime when cut open.

Stinkhorns appear suddenly and often sport gaudy coloration like that depicted here. Other common but imaginative names are “devil’s dipstick” and “dog stinkhorn.” Mature stinkhorn mushrooms can be smelled from 50 feet away, making them less than delightful for humans who suddenly find themselves with a new neighbor in the backyard.