You can see the 9-holed softball sized ‘cage’, and the base is evident in the top right just above the case. The base and the cage were separated when I came across the whole thing, and when I broke one of the links in the frame the cross section was honeycombed internally.
A friend of mine, Jacqui Stol, from CSIRO had previously assisted us in identifying what was called a ‘Slime Mould” from a photo I’d included in a previous edition of Ochre Archives. With this as a background I sent her a copy of the above photo and asked if she could assist with identifying this latest find.
Courtesy of Jacqui sending on my email I've subsequently received an email from Jim Trappe , an Oregon State University mycologist who is currently a visiting scientist with CSIRO and a colleague of Jacqui’s.
Here is a slightly edited copy of Jim’s email:
“You are right. It is a fungus in the stinkhorn group, Ileodictyon gracile (I use that name, although that species usually has about twice as many holes as your specimen…yours could be a related species but new to science). One common name is the White Basket fungus. I think of it as the Whiffle Ball fungus.
It forms belowground in a truffle-like form in which it becomes fully formed but tightly compressed. When it reaches maturity, it takes up water and its cells swell, creating great tension within its relatively tough covering skin. The slightest jar will cause it to expand instantly. More than once I've been startled by having it leap out at me like some huge, jumping spider when it reaches that stage.
The honeycomb structure enables it to expand far more at less need to build tissue than if it were solid.
Its spores are formed in the inner surfaces of the "basket." They are suspended in a foul smelling sticky fluid, which attracts flies. The flies get the sticky spore suspension on their feet and carry the spores as they then fly around.
The web has a number of articles about it, just Google the name.”
Prompted by Jim’s final comment my web-search brought to light the following article which gives even more detail: http://australianfungi.blogspot.com/2009/06/32-ileodictyon-gracile.html. What’s now clear is that our find was just a tiny specimen, really.
Jim has kindly granted permission for me to post this blog article. My sincere thanks go to both Jim and Jacqui for their wonderful help. Given his comment that what we found could be a 'related species new to science' we've agreed to see if we can find another and send it to Jim for identification.
In closing I’ll share another comment from Jim’s email which is spot-on: “As the saying goes, ‘Ain't Nature grand!’”.