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Danny’s DNA Discoveries – Nidulariaceae of the PNW (bird's nests)
by Danny Miller

Click here for my Pictorial Key to the bird's nest fungi


These are tiny mushrooms that look like a bird's nest, filled with "eggs", usually growing from sticks (sometimes on dung). At first, many of them have a lid that comes off, revealing the "eggs" inside, which may be splashed out of the cups by a raindrop. Others aren't really nest shaped, but more spherical, without a lid, but with any part of the exterior easily breaking apart to reveal the "eggs" inside. Bird's nests are notable, along with puffballs, for being non-gilled mushrooms in the Agaricineae sub-order that mostly contains the dark spored gilled mushrooms.

Nidularia, the spherical species, live with Nidula tomentosa, and in my ITS tree N. candida is not in the same genus with high support. A multi-gene study is necessary to see if all Nidula need to be renamed to Nidularia, the older name, or if Nidula needs to be split.

Sphaerobolus , the cannon fungus, is in a different order and contains one single egg inside a sphere on wood that can be flung great distances.


abundant common uncommon rare - colour codes match my Pictorial Key and are my opinions and probably reflect my bias of living in W WA. Rare species may be locally common in certain places at certain times.

Nidula, Nidularia, Cyathus, Crucibulum, and Mycocalia


Crucibulum PNW01 - This genus has eggs that often have a short cord attached to them. The cord can act like a whip and help the eggs attach to blades of grass and other substrates. This species has a pale orange brown velvety nest averaging 8 mm high with a brighter orange lid. Inside are whitish eggs. Like most bird's nests, it grows on wood. Crucibulum crucibuliforme is the EU species (it's also called by the newer name Crucibulum laeve). That is the name we have been using for our species, but DNA shows that different parts of the world have different genetic species. Our species is unique, and so is the species from from Alberta back through the east coast (Crucibulum parvulum). The American Rockies has a unique species too. Ours does not have a name yet. We have sequences from WA and OR.

Crucibulum parvulum AB - is to be looked for in the deserts of Idaho. It is only about 4 mm high, even more cylindrical and has a thinner, more brittle nest.

Crucibulum PNW01 ©  Robert M. Hallock


Cyathus striatus EU - This genus has eggs also often attached by a long cord (see photo) and usually prominently fluted shaped nests (wide on top and narrow at the bottom) to help the rain splash out the dark grey "eggs". This species is easily recognizable by striations inside the dark brown shaggy nest that is ~1 cm tall. BC and OR sequences match many EU sequences. Cyathus helenae AB has a similar LSU sequence and is a close relative, but it is not yet known from the PNW.

Cyathus olla EU - another somewhat large species (over 1 cm tall) and the rim of the nest is especially wavy and flared. The nest has a fairly smooth greyish exterior. It is not striate inside. Whereas most bird's nests are found on wood, this one might be on soil. CA, IL, and NZ have the real species with DNA matching EU sequences, so I'm sure we do too, but we do need local sequenced collections.

Cyathus stercoreus ENA/EU - also ~1 cm tall, this has a warm brown shaggy exterior when young, but the rim is not especially flared nor does it have interior striations. It's most notable for often growing on dung. I'm not sure if this species is from ENA or the EU, but DNA from both places agrees, so it doesn't matter, and DNA from CA matches. We still need local sequenced collections.

Cyathus cf pygmaeus - the smallest Cyathus about 4 mm tall, with a brown slightly hairy exterior and dark grey interior. It prefers dry climates. This may be an ENA species, and we have one sequence purporting to be in from Chile, but no reliable sequences of it and no local sequences either. We need both to see what reports of this are.

unsequenced Cyathus striatus © Richard Morrison and Yi-Min Wang,     unsequenced Cyathus pygmaeus © Andrew Parker


Nidularia, the spherical species, live with Nidula tomentosa, and in my ITS tree N. candida is not in the same genus with high support. A multi-gene study is necessary to see if all Nidula need to be renamed to Nidularia, the older name, or if Nidula needs to be split.

Nidula candida WA (Nidularia candida WA) - This genus has the eggs embedded in a gel but no cords attached to the eggs at all. Perhaps all Nidula will need to be moved inside Nidularia. This species already has a name in Nidularia, Nidularia candida. This species is a tiny brown very shaggy nest about 1 cm tall, initially with a brownish lid that has a white collar of fuzz near the top of the nest. There are whitish eggs inside. It has been hard to figure out which sequences represented N. candida and which represented N. niveotomentosa, especially since a Kraisit paper was full of errors, but I believe I have sorted that out.

Nidula niveotomentosa CA - even smaller white shaggy nests about 5 mm tall, initially with a white lid, with dark brown eggs inside. Nidula microcarpa CA+MT is thought to be a newer synonym by some, but this should be proven.

Nidularia PNW01 - this comes in a powdery round white nest. It has the same ITS as N. niveotomentosa, but for now I am assuming it deserves its own name, as both the shape and the exterior covering (powdery vs. hairuy) differ, so we should sequence other genes to find out.

Nidularia deformis EU - spherical pale brown mushrooms about 1 cm across where the exterior breaks away to reveal a bunch of eggs inside embedded in a gel. This species has lens shaped reddish brown "eggs" that wrinkle when dried. The exterior is not reported as powdery nor hairy, so it might has a smooth exterior. We have many EU sequences, but no local collections to match them to yet.

Nidularia puilvinata - very similar, except this species has irregularly shaped greyish brown "eggs" that don't wrinkle as much when dried, although the most reliable difference might be microscopic. It is reported with a powdery exterior when young. We have ENA sequences, but no EU sequences, and I'm not sure which the type is from. We need local collections.

Mycocalia cf denudata EU - smaller pure white to cream confluent spheres about 1.5 mm across with yellowish eggs inside, also embedded in a gel. A collection from eastern Canada has a sequence that matches a UK sequence, and it was reported from BC, but we need local collections to prove that we this species here too.

Nidula candida ©  Gilbert Tse,     Nidula niveotomentosa © Leah Bendlin,     Nidulara PNW01 © Kerri Bridges (2 images)


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