J is for Jack ‘O Lantern

Mushroom, that is! This is mushroom appears in the fall–yes, around October–but we thought it’d be fun to point it out for J day, here with our Blogging From A to Z Challenge. This mushroom is appropriately named because it’s orange, like those pumpkins you humans like to carve, but also because a fresh mushroom will glow in the dark like a jack ‘o lantern!

Really! And they are also poisonous, and can be easily confused with an edible mushroom. So, as with all fungi species, we squirrels are cautioning our readers to be careful.

Back to the glowing part. Only the gills–the underneath part of the cap–glow a bioluminesent green on a fresh jack ‘o lantern. We didn’t find a fresh one, as you can see. And it is hard to see. You humans must be patient and let your eyes adjust to the dark. The Cornell Mushroom Blog has a very nice photo, of it, as well as a confession of picking the wrong species–and luckily not eating it! Be careful out there, folks!


Turkey Tail Fungus

The other day we took a break from our acorn burying to rest in the shade on this stump.

Pretty soon Hickory was ready to run again, but I paused to peer at the stump edge. “There are two fungus types growing here, but I believe they are both Turkey Tail fungus,” I told him.

He perched beside me and swished his tail. “Nope. Only the striped one. The gold one might have the waves, but it’s missing the stripes.”

I compared the gray striped one to the plain gold one, then we left for acorn hunting again. Later that day I hunted down Miz Flora and asked her.

“He’s right,” she said. “The scientific name is Trametes versicolor. Versicolor means ‘of several colors’. Turkey Tail fungus isn’t just orange and gold. It can be other colors, but it always shows several colors. Your plain gold fungus is something else, and I have to admit, I only know they most common fungus so it’s a mystery to me.

And it’s a mystery to me why I hadn’t picked up that fungus tidbit and Hickory had. But I know it now!

What’s better than one mushroom?

A whole ring of mushrooms!

Well, not quite whole, but you get the idea. Some humans call this a fairy ring, and we squirrels hate to disappoint you, but there is nothing magical about mushrooms growing a ring.

Or so says Miz Flora.

When Hickory and I found this ring, we took our elderly neighbor squirrel over to get her expert botanical opinion. This is what she said:

“Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungus, and appear at the edges of the underground mycelia–like roots of fungus. Those mycelia grow outward in all directions from where it first sprouted. Do you kits see any signs of a tree once being here?”

Hickory and I poked around. “Here it is!”

“That fungus,” said Miz Flora, “started decomposing the tree, or likely the tree stump or its underground remains, if the humans had the stump ground out. It has spread every year, wider and wider, working to break down those wood cells. If you come back next fall after a good rain like we’ve had, then you’ll find another ring, just a bit bigger.”

“But what about the knocked over mushrooms?” Hickory asked. “Does that hurt the fungus?”

“Nope.” She flicked her tail. “That only stops them from spreading more spores. That fungus is doing fine underground.” She looked around. “But I sure would like to see another tree on this bare corner rather than grass.”

What squirrel wouldn’t?

Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom

It’s orange, so you bet this mushroom has been named for your human holiday!

Jack-o'-Lantern mushroom

We’re a few days late, but Hickory and I just ran across a Jack-o’-Lantern mushroom, Omphalotus olearius, and wanted to share it.

Not only is this mushroom orange, but its gills glows in the dark–when the mushrooms are newly sprouted, which these are not. We squirrels didn’t try to photograph the glow, so suggest you look at the Cornell Mushroom Blog. The cool thing is, it’s the same luminescent enzyme, luciferase, that makes fireflies glow.

Jack-o'-Lantern mushroom

Besides looking a bit ragged, these may even be eaten around the edges, but that’s not by humans! Do not touch this species, because like many of the scary things about Halloween, this mushroom is poisonous.

One Of Nature’s Mysteries To Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this one?

Mystery #128

Give me your guesses and I’ll check back later with your answer!


Well, folks, this is one to stay away from. Fly Agaric or Fly Amanita, Amanita mascara, is poisonous. It’s usually red, but different subspecies can be orange or yellow. They always have those crusty white spots. A ‘skirt’ can sometimes be seen on the white stalk.

Here’s an interesting thing about the name: In some areas, the powdered agaric has been used to keep away flies and other insects, including in milk. So some people have eaten the mushroom after has been prepared in a certain way. Also, as you see, some animals can eat it.

Fly Agaric

Large portions of it!

Fly Agaric partially eaten

Remember, these are animals eating this poisonous plant.

We have made this point before on The Squirrel Nutwork: Humans should not eat something an animal eats, or even if the information or folklore of a wild plant includes other cultures eating it. Please do your research before consuming anything in the wild. Better to be safe and just enjoy the pretty looks!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve


It’s been so overcast and gloomy in Northern Virginia, I didn’t get my post up very early. But this week I wanted to share a real mystery–even to us squirrels here at The Squirrel Nutwork. This er, object photograph was sent in to us–thanks, Jeanine!–so we didn’t have the pleasure of curling it, poking our noses to it or taking a swipe at it.

Mystery #111

Any guesses?

Back with you later!


Looks like we are a little stumped. Heh, for a bit I–Hickory Squirrel–considered those little holes and the gray coloring meant a paper wasp nest got rolled around in a mud puddle and became somewhat waterlogged.

Then Miz Flora declared it a fungus because of the stalk emerging from the ground.

Nutmeg thought it might be a puffball that dried up before maturing.

But during another email exchange, our reader/photographer suggested false truffle. That’s looking like the best guess after we looked it up. The stalk is a clue, and the ‘spongy appearance’.  If any of you human readers come across one again, it seems a nasty odor and cutting the false truffle open to see if a stalk is hidden inside would confirm that’s the group.

However, please do not consider our guesses here accurate identification. Fungus are tricky to identify and since many are poisonous, please do not use our ramblings as proof. We never recommend eating anything from the wild without positive identification from experts!