Earthstar fell from the sky

Earthstar — born from the earth, fallen from the sky

Today I had my first encounter with an earthstar.

It was a long anticipated encounter, as I’ve been reading some curious folklore inspired by the wild star shape of this mushroom. It’s a great reminder of how an organism’s shape can inspire stories, and how tempting it Is to understand an ‘alien’ creature by comparing it to something else — something more familiar.

A star, yes. An English mushroom expert in the 1800s said that earthstars aspire 'occasionally to leave this earth'; inspired by someone who found a specimen 'on the very highest pinnacle of St Pauls' (Cathedral)!’.

There are different kinds of earthstars, and they appear in different stages as they unfold from the ground. And so, somehow, in the 1600s they were recognised as little human figurines:

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Earthstars are sensitive to moisture. The “barometer earthstar” opens up when there is plenty of water, but as soon as it gets too dry for them, they fold their star rays back up, closing up to protect themselves. If you’re curious what that looks like, check out this time-lapse.

How different am I to an earthstar? I recognise my own thirst in them. It just manifests differently.

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Sources of folklore and illustration:


Brian Spooner & Thomas L˦ssøe. The folklore of ‘gasteromycetes’. Mycologist Volume 8, Issue 3, August 1994, Pages 119-123.

Badham, C.D. (1863) A Treatise on the Esculent Funguses of'England. Ed. 2. London: Reeve.

Seger, G. (1671), Fungus Anthropomorphos. Miscel- lanea curzosa Medico-physica academiae nature cur- iosum 2: 112-113.

Secret traditions: visit the flower before you die

I notice a lot of bumblebees resting or napping in flowers. They also seek out flowers as a resting place shortly before they die. A flower might give some food and shelter from the elements, but is it enough? Might the bees have additional reasons for choosing the flower as a resting place?

Could it be that they find some kind of peace, comfort, or pleasure in the soft, colourful, fragrant shapes of the flower?

Thinking along these lines, it almost sounds like a religious, spiritual or cultural tradition….

and so, she disappears into the light.

You might think all of this sounds crazy, but there is some serious research looking into questions of beauty and the sensory perceptions of nonhumans, including insects (eg. as discussed here). There is even research that asks if animals might have culture or folklore.

I’m fascinated by the idea that animals can have aesthetic preferences. That they know beauty. Not (or not only) because it serves some kind of function (like an indicator of health, vigour or nutrition), but just because there are things they feel attracted to — which are not always explicable. Why is something beautiful to you? Beauty is elusive to humans, too. 

a final drink

To me, it makes sense that we should no longer think of insects as automatons that just carry out tasks and respond mechanically to their surroundings. Instead, we can think of them as agents who experience the world in multi-sensory ways, and are attracted (or repulsed) to the smells, textures, colours and shapes around them.

Beauty, a dialogue between perceiver and perceived. 

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My thoughts are inspired by feminist writers Hustak & Meijers — this is a good read:

Hustak, C. & Myers, N. (2012) Involutionary Momentum: Affective Ecologies and the Sciences of Plant/Insect Encounters. d i f f e r e n c e s: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 23 (3), doi 10.1215/10407391-1892907