Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Cultured Fungus: Canned Mushrooms

I love visiting Asian grocery markets. Thankfully these days the Twin Cities metro area has quite a few of them, though that hasn't always been the case. At first the fascination was the opportunity to shop for, buy, and try all sorts of unfamiliar foods. These days I visit them mostly to browse the ramen aisle and to supply my kimchi habit - and to marvel at the canned mushroom selection.
Canned mushrooms. You might be expecting me to continue with a comparison of mushroom species eaten by different cultures, or maybe that I'm about to share some tasty, canned-mushroom based recipes. But no - my fascination with canned mushrooms is much more superficial - it's the labels. They are typically so unappetizing. The colors of the labels never seem to rest easily with the inevitable photograph of the mushrooms to be found in the can. And the photograph always seems a bit over exposed and a little too saturated; the mushrooms often seem to glisten in a way food isn't supposed to (though I admit my impression of how food is supposed to look is heavily influenced by a food-reality disconnect promoted by most food labeling that I'm used to in the US). I think the word "garish" sums it all up nicely.

Why are the labels of canned mushrooms in Asian grocery stores so often unappetizing? Maybe it's some sort of cultural insider joke, like ugly Christmas sweaters. Maybe I'm the only one who views them this way, it's just a personal quirk; some combination of amateur mycologist, appreciator of thoughtful and creative depictions of mushrooms in art, and general lover of Asian food.
So I intend to share a series of photographs of canned mushrooms. I've had this idea floating around in my head for awhile, but I've never had any decent photographs; this is probably because I would furtively take pictures of mushroom cans with my phone while in the grocery store, always looking over my shoulder for suspicious shopkeepers and trying to block the glare from fluorescent lights. So the last time I visited Shuang Hur Oriental Market in south Minneapolis I bought about ten cans of mushrooms of various types and brands so I could take the picture in a more controlled environment.

This first can of mushrooms happens to feature a Black-necked Stork (Grus nigiricollis) on the label, which is pretty cool. I like bird watching as much as I like mushroom hunting. I'd like to think of this mushroom can label as a good omen, maybe some kind of bioglyph indicating a future of excellent mushroom identifying and many additions to my birding life list. But I think it mostly just indicates a cupboard full of canned mushrooms.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flies That Aren't Flies: Wasp Mantidfly

And that aren't mantids or wasps. The picture below is of Climaciella brunnea, the Wasp Mantidfly. Mantidflies are a family of insects in the order Neuroptera, which also includes the lacewings and ant lions.
The colors on a Wasp Mantidfly mimic those of paper wasps (genus Polistes). Their enlarged front legs and triangular head resemble those of mantids (order Mantodea). Like mantids, the front legs are raptorial and used for grasping insect prey.
Thanks Heidi for sharing this insect with me this summer, and the pictures!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What a Wooly Bear Turns Into

Who doesn't like a Wooly Bears? Even if you hate insects, you'd probably make an exception for Wooly Bears. While many know that a Wooly Bear is a caterpillar, and that caterpillars are the larva of butterflies and moths, most are unclear what they eventually turn into, which is an Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella a member of the Tiger Moth family, Arctiidae.
While the Wooly Bear has a firm place amongst the charismatic micro-fauna of eastern North America, the Isabella Tiger Moth, despite its impressive name almost qualifies for the LBM category.
One reason for the Wooly Bear's popularity is its tendency to wander about during the day, which makes them easy to find. Most caterpillars stay hidden with their food plant and/ or are mostly active at night to avoid predators. Why they wander isn't really known. It could be to find a suitable hibernation place. Another explanation is they are seeking certain plants to eat. Although Wooly Bears eat a large variety of low growing plants and grasses, it is thought they seek out certain plants containing toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
P. isabella overwinters as a caterpillar. They are often active later into the fall than most other caterpillars. I found the wooly bear pictured above in mid-November. The moths are active in the early summer. The individual pictured in this post was found in late June on an otherwise mothless night.