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A Bucket List Mushroom Found: Bleeding Tooth Fungus

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Bucket list fungus: FOUND ✔️

“Bleeding Tooth Fungus” or "Devil's Tooth" or “Strawberries & Cream”

(Hydnellum peckii)

Mendocino, California

The “Bleeding Tooth Fungus” has always evaded me. This mushroom does not grow in California's San Francisco Bay Area, where I embarked on my adventure as a professional fungi photographer—but it does grow in Mendocino County, where I recently relocated. Although my husband and I visited the Mendocino Coast dozens of times over the past 5 years for the purpose of photographing fungi, we still weren't really in the ideal place to find it until this year.

These beautiful specimens revealed themselves to us in Mendocino’s pygmy forest—a naturally rare ecological zone that occurs only on very old, elevated marine terraces that are located 1-5 miles from the ocean. They were growing at the foot of scattered pine trees and tall huckleberry bushes, which interestingly still had berries desperate it being well into the first week of December.

The squeals I let out must have been heard for distances.

Oh, the joy!!

So what causes those fabulous red droplets?

Well, you’ve heard me talking about “guttation” in my blog “Guttation: A Drippy Phenomenon”. As a refresher: when a fungus has taken in too much moisture, it exudes the excess fluid in the form of droplets. This does not harm the fungus but simply allows it to regulate hydration. You’re seeing exactly that happening here—only the droplets exuded by this particular mushroom contain a red pigment (aurantiacin), which dyes them red. Interestingly, the bitter liquid is known to act as an anticoagulant.

What are the droplets like to the touch?

Just like water! Although the droplets appear to be rather gooey (and especially with so many tiny “Water Springtails” (Podura aquatica) dancing around on them without any visible disturbance to the surface tension), they have the same consistency as drinking water.

Is that what those tiny insects are? Water springtails?

Yes—I believe so! These teenie bugs are barely visible to the naked eye—or at least, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s likely you might just think they’re specks of dirt!

I didn’t even notice the springtails until we got home and I reviewed my photos on my computer! That is always just so much fun—discovering tiny details I didn’t see with the naked eye later during my review.

How lucky was I to find this beautiful specimen on my very first day out with my new camera?

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