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Scientists Identify New Edible Mushroom in Chicago

The Field Museum
The Field Museum

A sunny yellow edible mushroom has just joined the noble ranks of new species named for the Windy City. Writing in the journal Mycologia, fungus researchers say the Chicago chanterelle had been under our noses all along.

There’s a reason we missed it: fungus is kind of tricky. “Plants are there almost all the time,” lead researcher and Field Museum mycologist Patrick Leacock told mental_floss. Fungi are far more ephemeral. Some species pop up only once every five years, others once a year. They appear overnight and are gone just a few days later. “You have to be in the right place at the right time” to see them, Leacock said. To date, he and his colleagues have cataloged more than 1000 different fungi species across the Chicago area.

Leacock and his co-authors had seen yellow chanterelles there, too, but they had no reason to believe the mushrooms were special. There are chanterelles all over the place. Then researchers in other parts of the country began taking a closer look at the chanterelles in their backyards. They sequenced the fungi’s genomes and discovered that what had appeared to be one standard North American variety was actually a number of distinct species. One 2014 paper suggested that there might be as many as 100 unidentified types of chanterelles still out there.

The Chicago team decided to test their own wild specimens. During the summers from 2000 to 2014, they collected yellow chanterelles in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, noting the location in which each mushroom was found. They extracted DNA from 21 of their fresh specimens, 20 dried mushrooms, and one preserved piece, and sequenced each sample.

The Field Museum

 
Sure enough, the golden mushrooms nestled at the base of Illinois oak trees were a species all their own. Cantharellus chicagoensis looks a lot like its nearby cousins, but its flavor is more delicate and its aroma milder.

Want to find your own? You’ll likely have to wait until next summer, as C. chicagoensis is a summer variety. Head out of the city center and into the nearby forest preserves. Look for oak trees and check at the base.

Because this is Chicago we’re talking about, we had to ask: How would this new species fare on a slice of deep-dish pizza?

So-so, Leacock said: “It’s not the best use of it.” He recommends a nice omelet instead.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Scientists Name Just-Discovered Brazilian Cave Spider After Aragog from Harry Potter
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iStock

Multiple new species, from wasps to crabs, have been named after Harry Potter characters. Now, CNET reports that Brazilian scientists have given a newly identified cave spider the name Ochyrocera aragogue, after Hagrid's enormous pet spider Aragog. Keeping with a theme of literary inspiration, the researchers also chose classic names for six additional arachnids they discovered underground in northern Brazil. They published news of their finds on January 10 in the science journal ZooKeys.

A team from Brazilian biological research center Instituto Butantan, Sao Paulo, found the cave-dwelling spiders among 2000 adult specimens collected throughout five years of field research. All seven species belong to the genus Ochyrocera and reside underground in iron caves across Pará, a state in northern Brazil. (Pará is home to Carajás Mine, one of the world's largest iron ore mines.) Scientists say the region might contain even more spiders like them, though mining activities reduce the area's biodiversity.

Unlike the elephant-sized Aragog, who readers first met in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the newly discovered arachnids are all tiny, measuring less than an inch in total size. They're also distinct from many cave-loving critters in that they aren't all pale white and aren't missing any of their six eyes. The spiders are technically able to spend their entire lives in caves, but they've also been known to crawl towards the opening and even venture outside.

In addition to Ochyrocera aragogue, researchers were inspired to name some Brazilian cave spiders after creepy-crawly figures from fantasy works like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu. Monikers included Ochyrocera laracna, after the spider Laracna who attacks Frodo and Sam in LOTR; Ochyrocera varys, after GoT's Lord Varys (a.k.a. The Spider), and Ochyrocera atlachnacha, in honor of the Lovecraftian spider god Atlach-Nacha.

Ochyrocera varys, a new cave spider discovered in Brazil named after the character Lord Varys from 'Game of Thrones'
Ochyrocera varys
Igor Cizauskas

Ochyrocera atlachnacha, a new spider discovered in Brazil named after the Spider God Atlach-Nacha from H. P. Lovecraft's works.
Ochyrocera atlachnacha
Igor Cizauskas

Since not all literary spiders are spooky, the scientists also paid homage to E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and David Kirk's children's series Little Miss Spider, dubbing two other newly discovered spiders Ochyrocera charlotte and Ochyrocera misspider, respectively.

Ochyrocera misspider, a new arachnid species discovered by cave areas in Floresta Nacional de Carajás, in Brazil.
Ochyrocera misspider
Courtesy of Igor Cizauskas

This isn't the first time a spider has been named after Hagrid's pet; in 2017, scientists from the University of Tehran dubbed a new species of wolf spider discovered in southeastern Iran Lycosa aragogi.

[h/t CNET]

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© Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum
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After Years of Searching, Scientists Finally Found This Coconut-Cracking Giant Rat
© Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum
© Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum

Tyrone Lavery has spent years on the lookout for a giant rat. Lavery, a mammalogist who works at Chicago's Field Museum, first heard of a tree-dwelling rat that locals on Vangunu Island called “vika” on his first trip to the islands as a postdoctoral researcher in 2010. Now, he's finally found it.

Tyrone reports the existence of a new (to science) species they've named Uromys vika in a study just published in the Journal of Mammalogy. It's the first new rodent found in the Solomon Islands in 80 years—"and it's not like people haven't been trying," as Lavery says in a press statement from The Field Museum. "It was just so hard to find."

The Solomon Islands, located just east of Papua New Guinea, are biologically isolated by the Pacific Ocean, and half the mammals native to the islands are found nowhere else. The unique nature of their ecosystem makes the Solomon Islands—much like the Galapagos—fertile ground for scientists.

Though researchers working in the Solomon Islands have suspected the existence of the vika for two decades, the rat found by Lavery and his colleagues John Vendi and Hikuna Judge is the first specimen recorded by scientists. They spotted it scurrying out of a felled tree, and judging by the shape of its skull, could tell that it wasn't like other species of rats native to the area. Before its discovery, Lavery had spent so long looking for the elusive rat that he was beginning to think that maybe the children's rhymes and folk songs referencing vika were just referring to regular black rats.

But his first instinct was correct. U. vika is more than four times the size of a regular rat, measuring about 18 inches long. It lives in trees, and its teeth are strong enough to crack into coconuts, chewing circular holes in the shells to reach the meat inside.

Lavery confirmed that the massive rat he found was a unique, new species by checking its DNA against the DNA of other regional rat species, and by confirming with Vangunu Island locals that the rat he captured was indeed the one they called vika. "Vika's ancestors probably rafted to the island on vegetation, and once they got there, they evolved into this wonderfully new species, nothing like what they came from on the mainland," the mammalogist explained.

The species will be designated as critically endangered, because commercial logging poses a huge threat to its rainforest habitat. It was hard enough to find just one of the rats, and there's no telling when (or if) scientists will see the vika again.

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