SAN FRANCISCO (June 15, 2009) - It's two inches long, grows on wood, and is shaped like a phallus. A new species of stinkhorn mushroom, Phallus drewesii, has been discovered on the African island of Sao Tome and graces the upcoming cover of the journal Mycologia. The mushroom is named after Robert Drewes, Curator of Herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences, and is described in the July/August issue by Professor Dennis Desjardin and Brian Perry of San Francisco State University.
Phallus drewesii belongs to a group of mushrooms known as stinkhorns which give off a foul, rotting meat odor. There are 28 other species of Phallus fungi worldwide, but this particular species is notable for its small size, white net-like stem, and brown spore-covered head. It is also the only Phallus species to curve downward instead of upward.
"The mushroom emerges from an egg and elongates over four hours," says Desjardin, who is also a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. "Its odor attracts flies who consume the spores and disperse them throughout the forest."
Desjardin and Perry named the new species after Drewes as an acknowledgment of his "inspiration and fortitude to initiate, coordinate and lead multiorganism biotic surveys on Sao Tome and Principe," according to the Mycologia paper.
"It's a wonderful honor and great fun to have this phallus-shaped fungus named after me," says Drewes. "I have been immortalized in the scientific record."
Phallus drewesii is not the first species to bear Drewes' name. A small moss frog native to South Africa (Arthroleptella drewesii) and a blind worm snake from Kenya (Leptotyphlops drewesi) were described in 1994 and 1996, respectively.
Over a span of forty years, Drewes has embarked on 36 expeditions to 19 African countries, where he has focused on the evolutionary relationships, natural history, and biogeography of amphibians and reptiles. Recently, he has turned his attention to Sao Tome and Principe, located in the Gulf of Guinea off Africa's west coast. Although it is a tiny nation - at 370 square miles, only about eight times the size of San Francisco - it hosts a number of plants, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians found nowhere else on Earth. Since 2001, Drewes has organized four multidisciplinary expeditions to the islands in an effort to document their biodiversity and gather data for conservation plans. Phallus drewesii was one of 225 fungus species that Desjardin and Perry collected during the 2006 and 2008 expeditions.
About the California Academy of Sciences
The Academy is an international center for scientific education and research and is at the forefront of efforts to understand and protect the diversity of Earth's living things. The Academy has a staff of over 50 professional educators and Ph.D.-level scientists, supported by more than 100 Research and Field Associates and over 300 Fellows. It conducts research in 11 scientific fields: anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, comparative genomics, entomology, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy and ornithology. Visit www.calacademy.org.
Mycologia is a scientific journal published by the Mycological Society of America on all aspects of the fungi, including lichens. Visit www.mycologia.org.