If Sherlock Holmes Were a Naturalist……

When Phoebe Goit returned home from the 2014 island Bioblitz in July, she found a surprise as she peered at a tiny twig under her microscope. A Kitsap Peninsula resident who has volunteered her lichen expertise at the last two Bioblitzes, Phoebe was stumped by an unintended find she’d collected earlier that day in the bottom of Christensen Creek valley—the specimen’s “egg in cup” appearance didn’t synch with any lichen she’d seen before.


The email trail below provides a “behind the scenes” look at how naturalists, scientists, and the internet can work together, sometimes over great distances, to solve such mysteries—and, in this case, add one more specimen to our 2014 Bioblitz count—plus a new sample for the University of Washington Herbarium!

Hi again Bianca,


The photos show the mystery.  The twig, as you can see in the first picture, is only 4 mm in diameter.  The entity is a little less than a mm.  The pictures were taken through the microscope. The twig, I’m pretty sure, was from a Doug fir.


I am not an expert, but I didn’t know of any lichens with this kind of fruiting body.  I checked some that I thought were possibles, but didn’t find anything that matched characteristics.


My first thought was that it was a fungi, and the morphology had me checking bird’s nest fungi, and the earthstar group.  I checked my books and the web and didn’t find a match.  The inner ball made me think of the slime mold, Lycogala epidendron, so again I checked my books and the web and found no slime molds with the cupped structure.  I find slime molds fascinating, but my knowledge of them is very limited, so I could easily miss something.


My inexpert conclusion is that it is probably a fungi.  I hope you recognize it or have someone you can consult.  It would add a species to the count, and I am really curious to know what it is.




Hi Brian,


We missed you at the Bioblitz this year! Hope you are having a great summer. I am wondering if you could help me solve this? It was found in a remnant of old growth forest in a creek valley at our Bioblitz last weekend.


Any idea what this could be and if it is a fungi even? Thanks! Bianca




Glad that you had a good BioBlitz this year, sorry I had to beg off, but I had a ton of conflicts last weekend.

I’m stumped. I have no idea what this is! None at all. It doesn’t look like anything I recognise.

My own thoughts on this tend *away* from it being fungal. I suspect some sort of insect eggs. Brian


Okay insect people. Can you help us solve this mystery? Phoebe the lichen and moss expert found this as she was looking at lichen from Christensen Creek. I forwarded it on to Brian McNett who joined us last year as I thought maybe fungi. He says he’s never seen anything like this before and does not think it is fungi.


Is it some sort of insect egg??? What you you think? Heidi we missed you and are looking forward to have the HPetersen’s 3 around next year! Hope everything is going well and good luck these last few weeks.


Talk soon, Bianca


My first thought is scale insect…they have really interesting life cycles and very diverse morphology.  The “white cup

Iike structure” appears slightly waxy close-up

… Do you still have the sample Bianca? Heidi


I’m in the fungus camp, but that’s one of the great things about Nature… Could be a plant, animal, fungi, bacterium, alga or otherwise. Hard telling. 🙂 I’ll forward it a bit as well. Cheers! Jeff


Hi Phoebe, Do you still have the sample twig and if so do you think it is possible to mail to us? Bianca


Hmmm… I did some poking around in my various reference sources, but It’s not instantly ringing any bells for me. I forwarded this e-mail to the best man I can think of for a job like this — Charley Eiseman. He’s the author of this amazing book that I highly recommend you purchase if you don’t already own it.




He’s pretty much dedicated himself to solving just these sorts of mysteries. I know he’s a busy guy, but perhaps he’ll remember me from our time working together on stuff for BugGuide and find a few moments to put his brain to the conundrum. I’ll let you know if I hear anything! Harsi


Hi Bianca, Jeff & Heidi.


I mentioned that I had forwarded these images along to my friend Charley Eiseman who is quite the expert on arthropod signs of all kind. He was kind enough to send me this response:


This does not look insect-related to me, and I think it would have to be either slime mold or fungus.  I’ll forward the photos to a couple of mycologist friends and see if they have any thoughts.”


~ Harsi


P.S. Heidi, I missed seeing you at the BioBlitz. Hope you are doing well and that I run into you around town sometime soon.

Hi Harsi,

Here you go! (see below)




Hi Charley,  isn’t it an adorable little thing?   Of course it’s a fungus.  Around here (upstate NY) Larry and I found it on fallen hemlock twiglets, in June or July. Here is a paper for you.


I think the latest name for it is Corticium minnsiae, or you could call it Aleurodiscus minnsiae, but the odds are good that it really needs a new name.  The little ball has been called a sclerotium, and can serve to disperse the fungus.  The sexual state is a crusty thing — the kind of thing Larry likes– but I haven’t found it.  I suspect the sexual fruiting body would be found on bigger wood than the asexual one.


Somewhere I have a photo of mine (sigh).  Adolf Ceska once posted an image of a western collection of it on the web (Botany Photo of the Day?)***  I have to run, but I bet you could find it easily with help from google.


warm wishes,



***Author’s note: VNC inserted the above link to Dr. Ceska’s image and description. This description does not list Washington State as a locale for the fungi which prompted us to wonder if this was a first record for Washington State. So we contacted the herbarium….



Thanks for contacting me about this.  We’d gladly accept the specimen.  We would just need specimen information such as location, date of collection, name of collector, and ideally GPS coordinates.  This would allow us to database and create a label for the specimen.  You can send the specimen to by mail at the address in the my electronic signature below.  Thanks, and let me know if you need any additional information or have questions.


David Giblin, Ph.D.

Burke Herbarium

Box 355325
University of Washington


David Giblin,


Bianca Perla asked you if you were interested in a specimen of Corticium minnisae that I found on Vashon Island in July, during the annual Vashon bioblitz.

The specimen is in the mail with the information you requested.

I do have some photographs taken through the microscope if you are interested.


Phoebe Goit




I don’t think that I hit “Reply all” when I replied to Phoebe.  Thanks for coordinating this – I did receive the specimen and we will add it to the collections here.  Thanks again.


David Giblin, Ph.D.
Box 355325
University of Washington
Seattle, WA  98195-5325

What a trail! VNC thanks all involved for their help in solving this mystery. Interested in hearing more stories?

Join Vashon Nature Center Director Bianca Perla and a panel of scientists and naturalists to hear more tales from the July Bioblitz during the Vashon-Maury Island Audubon Society program on Thursday, Oct. 9 at 7 pm at the Land Trust Building (10014 SW Bank Rd.)


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