Beetles on Laetiporus fungus
Commonly known as Chicken-of-the-woods, this is an edible fungus which cooks like chicken meat, having a white and flaky texture when boiled, and is considered an acceptable meat-substitute for vegetarians although spending a few years sampling beetles and other insects from the fruiting bodies would strongly suggest otherwise. It is generally harmless to people and is sometimes consumed by deer in the wild but it may produce adverse effects of dizziness or stomach problems in some individuals and it may also become toxic when growing on poisonous trees such as yew. This nationally common bracket fungus is often seen on both living and dead trees and fallen timber in a wide variety of situations from dense and heavily shaded woodland to open wooded parkland or individual trees in hedgerows etc. It is distinctive due to its bright colour: orange-yellow with brighter borders to the cap although this fades with age, becoming dull and dirty white. When young the flesh is spongy, soft and moist and the pores exude dewy droplets but with age the consistency becomes more rigid and the flesh eventually dries to a brittle mass. When developing in dark situations the fruiting bodies produce horn-like processes. Develops on a range of broad-leaved timber, possibly with a preference for oak, spores enter through wounds in healthy trees and mycelia produce a red/brown cuboid heartwood rot. Found on standing or fallen timber in all stages of decay, fruiting bodies generally occur from late April to October and usually remain intact until they are physically damaged and then they become powerfully attractive to a wide range of beetles that
Laetiporus sulphureus (Bull.) Murrill (1920)
Cassiobury park, Watford
will attack and develop in the fruiting bodies. Other species may soon be found between the fruiting bodies and the wood surface and yet more will colonize the wood decay caused by the mycelia. Dead and decaying fruiting bodies, which either remain on the tree or fall to the ground, will attract a wide range of beetles. Most of the beetles are nocturnal and easily seen when they are active on the fungus or surrounding wood, samples carefully taken at any time of year are likely to host at least some beetles as well as larvae and so can be kept to find out what emerges. Gently tapping the fungus over a net or tray will usually produce specimens, during the spring and summer they are likely to produce huge numbers of specimens, mostly common species but among them often something unusual and worth taking for critical examination. From local experience we know that these large bright yellow fungi will attract attention and sometimes of the wrong kind as children often delight in destroying specimens and leaving a fragmented mess under the host which is a great shame as left alone the fungus will remain in place for a year or two, gradually drying out and crumbling as the beetles (and flies and slugs) consume it, and then falling to the ground and becoming damp or waterlogged. This gives the opportunity to produce lists of the various beetles that arrive at different stages of decomposition but it really is best to choose a secluded specimen before embarking on such delights. Specimens will often be seen as a small series of brackets on standing trunks out in the open, these will of course produce the usual range of beetles, but to really appreciate the beetle diversity it is best to search fallen trunks in damp shaded woodland where the fungus can grow very large, producing close layers of brackets that may be a meter or more in length and in various stages of decomposition and drying out, below such large aggregations the ground tends to be covered with fallen decayed brackets and these are always worth lifting or sieving. In such situations amazing results can be produced by placing a sheet under the fungi and gently tapping, especially at night.
Decomposing fruiting bodies may be found attached to trunks and stems but for beetles the best ones are fallen and in contact with the ground, these may partly dry out during the summer but they tend to remain damp underneath and are a haven for decomposers and predators, all the better if these lie beneath extensive growths of fungi and accumulate in damp layers next to fallen trunks. In general wet specimens will host an abundance of beetles including many predatory staphs, silphids and leiodids, smaller staphs will be abundant and these are worth sampling as they will include a wide variety of subfamilies. Other groups such as hydrophilids, cryptophagids, latrids and ciids are usually present in numbers as well and if the whole system is sampled over a long season there will always be surprises as totally random species may occur. This sort of habitat will provide literally thousands of specimens, involve many hours of thoroughly enjoyable searching and add considerably to the early stages of a reference collection. It will also be hugely educational for the beginner as techniques like pitfall trapping can be employed (although this can be very destructive in such situations) to explore the diversity, light traps or flight-interception trapping can be used to find out whether species can fly, when they do so and whether they swarm, and regular visits, especially at night, will invariably produce mating pairs of many species and these should always be noted, and careful observation will reveal many interesting aspects of beetle behaviour. A large sample will remain wet and will produce beetles through the winter, even on the coldest of days, and so sampling can continue through the year.
A very wide range of adult beetles may be found in or on fruiting bodies, some are general predators, scavengers or fungivores but many are more specific and will occur repeatedly on this species, these include numerous staphylinids and so the flowing list includes genera that are well represented as well as some individual species and members of a few other families.
Beetles found on Laetiporus
A huge variety of Staphylinidae, including: