myco vegetation

My Dear Wife
It has been so long since we have been allowed bandwidth to enable private writing. The charging panels have not worked as well as we had hoped as the light strength is more inconsistent than was expected, and we have had to make efforts to conserve energy to ensure the datastream is as strong as possible. Despite this, and the incessantly wet weather, we are in good spirits. Our days are spent exploring, mapping, scanning and gathering as much information as is possible before we depart back aloft.

Vast numbers of species have been scanned – some look similar and may even be in the same species – as on Earth where juveniles can look different from adults, not just in smaller, but in radically different forms – even in the extreme examples such as caterpillars which are so vastly different in every respect to the adult butterfly.

podplantWe came across a thicket of strange trees – perhaps four or five meters tall – with the most unearthly ‘flowers’. The flowers turned out to be more of an adaptation we might see in carnivorous plants on Earth. The sticky tips of the ‘tongues’ are charged with a form of bioluminescence which attracts the many ‘fireflies’ seen at night. It is unclear if the insects detect the glowing tips as food, social companions as in an urge to form a swarm, or whether as an invitation to mate. Not that it matters, the end result is the same, the insect is captured and delivered into the cup at the base of the stem. The lips of the cup fold over and the contents are digested without dilution from the rain. It is as though the plant has considered the initial plans for the Earth species, Drosera, Dionaea, and the Sarracenia, and added its own unique variations. One of the adaptations is the leaves are exceptionally densely packed, and quite thick and leathery. The leaves, as so many species here, are reddish in colour on the underside, to take advantage of any reflected light. The dense leaf cover achieves three outcomes – the ‘flowers’ are sheltered from the driving rain, there is less light underneath the canopy so the bioluminescence is more obviously for longer times periods, and the darkness also help suppress other species from growing underneath.

bio-lichenBioluminescence appears to be a common technique employed by a number of species here. It is common to see rock walls covered in ‘lichens’ – fungi perhaps, glowing blues and greens eerily in the dark. Most nights, unless the rain is too heavy, we are treated to vibrant swarms of glowing insects, flying like madly animated fireworks.

Some nights we have seen insects produce a red light which allows them to hunt. It appears to be of a wave length near infra-red, visible to them, and ourselves (barely), but not to their prey. They garner a clear advantage in the short dark days here. I’ve taken to calling them ‘Malacosts’ – their technique remind me of similar specialised species back home.

rockeatAnother interesting form of ‘lichen’ we have encountered is found in the drier places – they’re rare enough, but they do exist. The lichen eats into rock surfaces – pock marking it into lunar-like surfaces – in what appears to be remarkably rapid time frames. If the rock surfaces were exposed to heavy rain the craters would fill with water and waterlog the lichen. We can’t tell if the lichen ‘eats’ the rock surfaces, or whether it secretes some sort of corrosive enzyme to extract the nutrients from the rock, perhaps in something like the way a house fly drools saliva on its food before re-consuming the saliva and nutrient solutions. rockeater2It may be possible that the lichen has some kind of micro-roots, similar to the nano-fibres on the feet of geckos. These micro-roots could split out minute chips of the stone – dust at the largest, part of the on-going erosion and rebuilding of a planet.

My darling, I have to end this message, I have so much more to tell you about this fascinating place, but it will have to wait until we have some break in the weather to further charge the cells. I am very well; we are eating the food stores supplemented by some of the edible fungi and mushrooms that grow so prolifically here. I have no problems sleeping, even in the cramped quarters of the Odonata – the days of exploring while carrying the recorders and scanners is strenuous.
All my love,
C

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