Book Review

Fungi Fimicoli Italici

by Francesco Doveri
Associazione Micologica Bresadola Fondazione Centro Studi Micologici dell'A.M.B.

Also from Italy comes this new book sure to make Sam Ristich beam. Those who know Sam or are acquainted second-hand via "Sam's Corner" are aware that he takes great delight in "growing" fungi on dung he has collected from the wilds. Well, now he has an impressive new resource for bestowing names on his (mostly) tiny fungal jewels.

Fungi Fimicoli

Fungi Fimicoli Italici is another labor of love by a European amateur mycologist. Dr. Francesco Doveri practices medicine as a family doctor and endocrinologist and has been studying fungi for over 30 years. After publishing articles on basidiomycetes and ascomycetes that dwell in dung, he decided a comprehensive manual would help others interested in this fascinating group of fungi. Although considerable identification literature exists, there was no single source that included both keys and descriptions, was reasonably comprehensive, and was easily available to amateurs. And so now there is-over 1,100 pages, covering approximately 304 species, in both English (in small type) and Italian (in even smaller type).

Despite the geographical title, the book should be widely useful as many of the dung (or fimicolous, or coprophilous) fungi are cosmopolitan creatures, and chances are that every reader resides in proximity to one or another of the animals whose products Doveri has studied-ant, badger, beech martin, brambling, cattle, chamois, crow, deer, dog, donkey, dormouse, fallow deer, ferret, fox, goat, hare, hedgehog, horse, lizard, marmot, marten, mouse, ostrich, peafowl, pig, pigeon, polecat, rabbit, rat, raven, ring-dove, rock goat, roe deer, sheep, snail, sparrow, squirrel, toad, tortoise, wasp, weasel, wild pig, and wolf (but no wombat).

Illustration of Cheilymenia fimicola

Following a brief introduction, Doveri explains how he studies these fungi-mostly this involves incubating the dung in moist chambers and looking at it daily (or more often) to see what new fungi have appeared since the last inspection (often in a rather predictable sequence). Although "moist chambers" might conjure visions of expensive lab gear, Doveri constructs his from clear plastic water or soda bottles-he cuts them into thirds crosswise, lines the bottom third with absorbent paper, wets it, places the dung on the moist paper, adds the upper third of the bottle as a top, and replaces the cap with a plug of cotton to allow air exchange. The major equipment expense comes from the need for both dissecting and compound microscopes, as most of these fungi are tiny (thus explaining Sam's enthusiasm for them). Once you've raised a crop of fungi, the keys, descriptions, and illustrations should allow you to identify a rather large number of them. There are about 315 drawings of microscopic features scattered throughout the text and 28 pages of color photographs grouped at the end of the book. The 163 photographs, mostly of the giants of the dung-fungus world, are of good to excellent quality. An extensive list or references will allow those who require even more information (and have access to a good college or university library) to check original sources.

Clearly, studying dung fungi will not be everyone's cup of reishi tea. But for those with a bent for things tiny (Maggie, are you listening?) or an interest in ecology on a small scale (which then can be connected to the bigger picture), they can provide a long-lasting source of pleasure-just ask Dr. Ristich. While the book is not cheap, both its weight and information content are high, so it offers good value. And, besides, think of the cachet of being the only member of your club to have collected and studied ant dung-priceless!

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Orignially published in The Mycophile 45:5, 2004