Boffins go to FUNGI town: Riddle of 100-year-old HAIRY, ICY dead wood finally cracked

Sorry kids, but it's NOT the sprouting head of a scary ghost

Hair ice in a forest near Moosseedorf, Switzerland (Credit: Christian Mätzler)
Elusive hair ice snapped in a forest near Moosseedorf, Switzerland. Pic credit: Christian Mätzler

Strange "hair ice" found sprouting on old wood has finally been explained by scientists: it's caused by fungi.

For nearly a century, boffins have been baffled by the odd hairy phenomenon. It grows on dead wood during humid winter nights when air temperatures fall a little below zero degrees centigrade.

A crack team of scientists in Germany and Switzerland reckon they have now solved the puzzle 97 years after continental drift man Alfred Wegener first studied the white, silky hairs found on crumbling tree branches.

The Exidiopsis effusa fungus had been the "missing ingredient", researchers said in a paper that has been published in the European Geosciences Union's open access journal Biogesciences.

“When we saw hair ice for the first time on a forest walk, we were surprised by its beauty,” said Christian Mätzler from Switzerland's Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bern.

“Sparked by curiosity, we started investigating this phenomenon, at first using simple tests, such as letting hair ice melt in our hands until it melted completely.”

Wegener had hypothesised that a relation existed between the ice and the type of fungus found in the dead wood.

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