WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?

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Promotional poster for the 1951 Movie, "The Thing From Another World"Stinkhorn FungusColumned Stinkhorn
Promotional poster for the 1951 Movie, "The Thing From Another World"
Promotional poster for the 1951 Movie, "The Thing From Another World" | Source
Stinkhorn Fungus
Stinkhorn Fungus
Columned Stinkhorn
Columned Stinkhorn

Close Encounters With Strange Living Things

Unless you've been around the block a number of times, you may not remember the original SciFi thriller which came to theaters in 1951. "The Thing" was a movie about an alien who was discovered frozen in ice along with his space craft in the Artic. When thawed, he went on a rampage of horror. This movie starred James Arness as "The Thing" who later became TV's Marshal Matt Dillon of the famed Gunsmoke western series.

I see that this same thriller was remade in 1981 and again in 2011. I've been told that in the original 1951 movie you didn't catch a glimpse of the monster/alien until near the very end.

Other than being an interesting bit of triva, this hub is not about UFO's or encounters with aliens. You may have thought it is because of the title. Instead, I'm going to share close encounters with strange living things from this planet.

Avid research is just part of my daily routine. The practice began in early childhood due to my inquisitive nature, and has served me well in order to keep abreast of the latest findings in my field of work. There have been times when I've been totally taken aback when happening upon things in the natural world that are not commonly known. Then, its hit the books or the internet at the first opportunity to put a name to it along with interesting facts to share with others.

It was just several months ago that my niece came running in the house and yelled, "Hurry Up! Put on your shoes and come look at this!" In an instant of time, the gamut of shoe choices raced through my mind. Should I put on flip flops to save time? But, is this a casual occasion? Perhaps athletic shoes make sense in case I have to run to see something that will not be there for very long. Due to her degree of excitement and persistence, I considered the appeal of high, sturdy leather boots to check out whatever it is that might lunge, bite and be poisonous. I opted to slip on loafers to save time and still have some support.

Once outside in the yard, I was hastened to a strange growth in the flower bed. "What the heck is that?" The object in question looked like someone cooked a crab leg, took it out of its shell and stood it upright in the black mulch. I estimated its length above ground to be about 10 inches with the pointed end reaching towards the sky. She then suggested that I touch it. Suddenly feeling like I was undergoing a challenge on Fear Factor, I reached out and was quite surprised by its fleshy, soft and spongy texture. It definitely felt weird.

"It has to be some sort of a fungus," was my best guess. "Let's see if we can find it on the internet."

It took a little bit of time before we were satisfied that our discovery was called a stinkhorn fungus. Apparently their "putrid mucilagenous spore slime," which is typically at the top, attracts green bottle flies and flesh flies. These in turn help to assure spore dispersal to other areas. Ours had no detectable odor causing me to conclude that it had just emerged from its egg-like stage and was not yet beckoning to the fly friends. These unusual fungus also have an affinity for wood mulch.

On another occasion in Florida, I was invited to a friend's home and was taken on the customary first time visitor's tour. When we stepped out on the patio, I noticed a grouping of four unusual-looking growths in their herb garden.

"What the heck is that?" The herb varieties I readily recognized, but the freaky four in their midst were totally foreign to me. I stared at them for a while wondering what they were and what purpose they served. Apparently these were also in the stinkhorn family, perhaps a columned stinkhorn?

I thought about other strange encounters that had eluded me for a time. Two occurred in Arizona. I awakened one morning lying on my back, stretching my arms and yawning. My eyes opened slowly and caught a glimpse of something on the ceiling. "What the heck is that?" Jumping to my feet, I stared at what looked like a grayish-black insect about the circumference of the area inside your thumb and forefinger when they meet. It somewhat resembled a spider in the shape of a crab with feathery, claw-like appendages. To my knowledge, there are no fuzzy crabs in the desert. It had beady round eyes and seemed to be staring back trying to size me up. I still haven't come across pictures on this one.

On another occasion, we were in the den, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye what looked like a rounded tiny flesh-colored vase turned on its side with 5 mm round beady eyes on top of the narrow end and tiny legs carrying it speedily across the carpet. My husband and I jumped to our feet and said in unison, "What the heck is that?" Again, I have yet to discover what this little unusual critter was.

When you think about it, there is so much in nature to observe and learn about. You could spend your entire lifetime on the study of just one insect, fish, bird or animal. Names come to mind like Diane Fossey who has extensively studied gorillas and Jane Goodall who has done the same with chimpanzees.

When considering the human body. King David in the Psalms made this expression: "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well." (Ps. 139:14 KJ) We know mankind has been studying the human body for milleniums, and still has not come to understand fully the incredible wisdom behind it.

I'm sure I will meet other strange creatures in the future. If you can shed any light on those two Arizona encounters, please feel free to do so in the comment section below. May your close encounters open up vistas of appreciation for the diversity and wisdom all around us.

If you are curious to further investigate fungi, check out this website: http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/mulch.html



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