The nights are drawing in, the air is damp and dewy and Halloween is almost here. Your thoughts might be turning to pumpkin carving and the feast of horror films on the TV, but nature is getting ready for the spookiest day of the year as well. Some of its scariest species are quite literally popping up overnight...
The dog stinkhorn pokes harmlessly up from the woodland floor, but don't get too close - it smells terrible! Photo by David Osborn (rspb-images.com)
The fungi foray season is here and there’s no better place to find our fantastic array of frighteningly-named fungi than your local wood, so get looking! You might be surprised just how many you can find in your local park or garden though.
The spooky hit parade
For someone who spends a lot of time in the wilds, I admit to being easily spooked. A vivid imagination and one too many scary films make imagination go into overdrive. Flashbacks to The Blair Witch Project sharpen my senses, especially when I’ve wandered “off piste” in the woods with my head down looking for fungi!
Top of my hit list to find is the quite frankly terrifying looking devil’s fingers. If I bumbled into one of these burnt flesh-esque fungi sticking out of the ground, I’d probably panic a bit – before punching the air with joy. This is a real rarity.
Devil's fingers (also called octopus stinkhorn) is one of our most disgusting -looking fungi. Photo by Mike Read (rspb-images.com).
Lots of other eerily-named species are easier to come by. Destroying angel, jelly-ear, deathcap, stinkhorn, sickener, scarlet elfcup, yellow brain, ugly milkcap, slimy and bloodred waxcap, poisonpie, snakeskin grisette and black witches butter are just some of the frightening fungi you could find this autumn.
The stinkhorn is another species to enjoy from a distance - you might well smell them before you see them. Think rotting flesh... Photo by Mark Gurney.
Dancing with the fairies
It’s not just me with an overactive imagination. Throughout history, the sudden appearance of fungi has led people to believe dark forces were at work. Various legends put the appearance of fairy rings (formed by the fairy ring champignon) down to fairies setting up a place for them dance - and rest on the toadstools afterwards. Some felt that dire consequences awaited anyone foolhardy enough to enter a fairy ring, including becoming enslaved in the fairies' underground realm.
Elf cups come in a variety of colours - these are green elf cups. Photo by Nick Upton (rspb-images.com).
Legends aside, there’s a very scary serious side to fungi. Deaths occur regularly due to people eating one of the many poisonous species, so look but don’t touch.
It might look harmless, but the deathcap is responsible for human fatalities every year. Photo by Mark Gurney.
It’s not just weird and wonderful names though. Fungi come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes – and colours, from puffballs and parasols to cups and brackets. Look for the perfectly purple amethyst deceiver and the brick red fly agaric, topped with white spots, but if you see a pixie perched on one, don’t panic...
Go on a fungi forayWhy not try our fungi bingo when you're out and about this autumn? And please leave a comment to let us know about any more fungi - or other wildlife - with a suitably scary. or weird, name. There are plenty more lurking out there...
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654