Will Yaeger, '24, pictured holding a specimen of Trametes lactinea, "latte bracket," outside of Packard Lab May 1. Yaeger uses the app Gaia GPS to save the locations of specimens and findings on campus. (Holly Fasching/B&W Staff)

Fascination with fungi: Senior discovers mushroom species


The passions of Will Yaeger, ‘24, have led him to discover a new mushroom species. 

Yaeger is a an IDEAS major studying molecular biology and biocomputational engineering, and a fascination with fungi helped him discover a new species just beyond the confines of campus.

“It was this little tiny white mushroom,” Yaeger said. 

His interest in the fungal world began during his first year at Lehigh during the pandemic in 2020. He said he went on hikes throughout the semester, taking an interest in the mushrooms he saw. 

Will Yaeger, ’24, holding two freshly collected specimens of Coprinellus micaceus, “mica caps,” outside of Packard Lab May 1. Yaeger carries a hardware box with him when collecting specimens on and off campus. (Holly Fasching/B&W Staff)

He made his discovery at the South Mountain Preserve in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, about a 20-minute drive from campus. Yaeger said he found the mushroom during one of his weekend trips, which he has been doing for the past year. 

“It was near a trail, growing in soil, among a bunch of dead leaves,” Yaeger said. 

With his knowledge of the local fungi, Yaeger recognized the specimen as new to the area. 

After making the discovery, Yaeger said he sent the mushroom to Mycota Lab, a nonprofit molecular lab focused on spreading information on the diversity of North American mushrooms, where DNA sequencing was used to affirm the mushroom species was a new discovery.

Yaeger said he hopes this will be the first of many discoveries he finds in the field.

He said he is unlikely to name or publicize his discovery. 

While searching for new fungi growing in underbrush outside of Packard Lab May 1, Will Yaeger, ’24, inspects a fallen branch covered in Stereum complicatum, “crowded parchment,” a common crust fungus. As the weather gets warmer at Lehigh, more mushrooms and fungi begin to appear. (Holly Fasching/B&W Staff)

“I don’t know if I actually will name it, mostly because of the logistics,” Yaeger said. “In order to describe a new species, you need a lot of information in order to have your species backed by the scientific community, so I would have to collect another one in order to name it.” 

He has also taken the initiative to create the  BioBlitz Club, which aims to create a space for students who want to learn about biodiversity. 

This past weekend, the club held an event where people were set loose to explore an open area, seeing what they could find. After the event, attendees met in STEPS 102 to discuss and recap the event. 

“It was a great experience for a nature hike and also viewing your surroundings,” Cecelia Huntress, ‘27, said.  

Ned Kanze, ‘26, an earth and environmental science student, also attended the event. 

It was so fun overall, we got out with a great group of people,” Kanze said. 

With the help of some Lehigh faculty, Yaeger said he has worked on many side projects in addition to his primary research on yeast genetics. One example, he said, is Dr. Greg Lang.

Two bracket fungi, Trametes lactinea and Ganoderma applanatum, “artist’s conk,” shown by Will Yaeger, ’24, May 1 outside of Packard Lab. Yaeger collects and studies fungi found on Lehigh’s campus . (Holly Fasching/B&W Staff)

He said he has been supportive of his interest and allowed him to sequence some of the mushrooms he’s found locally.

With graduation approaching, Yaeger said he intends to continue his study of fungi as a Fulbright scholar in Peru. 

Yaeger said he has been inspired by the lush, wooded environment that surrounds campus. 

“Having so much forestry in and around campus helped me develop the interest to eventually find this new species,” Yaeger said. “I would not be shocked if this species of mushroom is growing on campus.”



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