return to Pictorial Key

Bird's Nests

You'll probably recognize many of these on sight, because they really do often look like little bird's nests. You can also expect to find a lot of empty nests which persist for a long time. Up to 1cm in size unless otherwise stated. All are saprophytic. One interesting way the spores are dispersed is by a raindrop that falls into the nest and splashes the eggs out.

All of these, with the exception of Sphaerobolus, are most closely related to gilled mushrooms, in particular they belong to the family Agaricaceae - with Agaricus and Lepiota, if you can believe that. Along with the discovery that most puffballs and earthballs are also in this family, this counts as the most remarkable shock of all time to come out of mushroom DNA studies.

You might find the various species on wood, sticks or soil.

Nidula - our most common genus. Recognized by shaggy white and brown colours. The eggs are imbedded in a gel when young without a cord.

N. candida - darker exterior, pale brown eggs. <1cm. Usually on sticks.

N. niveotomentosa - paler exterior, darker brown eggs. Smaller (<5mm). On sticks or moss.

Crucibulum laeve - resembles Nidula candida with its pale brownish eggs embedded in a gel when young, but this species sometimes has more yellowish colours when young and is velvety rather than shaggy. Each egg is usually attached at first to the nest by a small cord, so you can sometimes take a pair of tweezers and try to remove an "egg" to find out which genus you have. (Cyathus usually has a long cord).

C. laeve - Young specimens still have a "lid". On sticks or soil.

Cyathus - the eggs are usually attached by a long cord and the eggs are blackish or greyish, not brownish.

C. striatus - the interior of the cup is striate! Some here still have lids. Usually on sticks.

C. olla - the margin is flared and wavy.  Smooth grey exterior. Usually on soil.

C. stercoreus - more often on dung, without the striations or flaring margin of other Cyathus. Brown fuzzy exterior.

C. pygmaeus - <4mm

Nidularia farcta (deformis)/pulvinata - Not an obvious bird's nest shape like the others, but just a sac full of eggs you may have to break open to discover. Empty sacs will be hard to ID. N. pulvinata is rarer and usually has more irregularly shaped grey-brown eggs. Usually found on larger pieces of wood than the others.

 

Sphaerobolus stellatus (iowensis) (Geastrales) - related to the earth stars, and opens up in the same way by the casing sometimes splitting into rays and opening up like a starfish. Just one big white egg in a yellow sack, it is hard to ID when empty or unless you poke it and recognize the single egg inside. Remarkable for the fact that when it is time for the egg to be dispersed, it will launch out like a cannon, travelling up to 17 feet. That's pretty amazing for something only 1mm wide. That would be like you long jumping over six miles. <5mm. Found on wood, sticks or manure.

 

 

There are probably too few species here to justify making a specialized field guide.

return to Pictorial Key