Taylor F. Lockwood strikes me as being a little like the Indiana Jones of the mushroom world. He goes out to all kinds of exotic locations to study and photograph fungus. In the process, he brings back evidence of a world far stranger than we could imagine. Lockwood's photos have appeared in publications all over the world, including The New York Times, and he's appeared on numerous TV and radio shows. His latest book, Chasing the Rain, is a compendium of alien beauty here on Earth. I talked to Lockwood via email recently, asking him about all things mushroomy.
Amazon.com: What, in your opinion, is the world's strangest mushroom, and why?
Lockwood: That is hard because there are so many strange ones. Two groups I really like are the Cordyceps and the Stinkhorns. The Cordyceps because they control the proliferation of insects as well as make them do strange things before they devour the insects from the inside out. Some Cordyceps are not only specific to the species of insect host that they will attack, they might be specific to the body part, leg or joint that they want to host upon. Other Cordyceps can make an insect climb up a tree to better spread the spores when the fungus fruits out of the insect's body. Stinkhorns fool insects into spreading their spores by attracting them with brightly colored bodies and a smelly spore mass. The insects land on the sticky mass of spores and unwittingly carry them off to other habitats. One thing you can be sure of is that there will be many more surprises as we find out more about the Kingdom of Fungi.
Amazon.com: Do you ever feel that you're exploring something alien, not of this world?
Lockwood: The best part of the deal is that they are part of this world. I believe that my work is about finding and photographing natural beauty that we humans haven't seen before...[That said,] I think that it's likely that there is a googol of fungus spores floating around the universe. This could very well be from a tangential impact hitting the Earth or other terrestrial body and blasting spores into space. Certainly all spores firmly attached to a meteor or meteorite would burn up upon entry to a planet with an atmosphere. However, there is always the possibility of drifting on their own in the planet's shadow or during a "cool" era like after the dinosaur-exterminating "winter". At this point it's all a matter of numbers. Many species or fungi can and do exist as filaments of single cells without having to fruit into larger (and more vulnerable) bodies. This would certainly help their chances of survival in a new habitat.