A while ago I talked about my new love for mushroom hunting and what exactly it is that I love about mushrooms, but today I’d like to get into the specifics of some truly bizarre species of fungus. If you didn’t already know that mushrooms are neither animals nor plants, here are five species that will convince you!
#5 The Octopus Stinkhorn
This mushroom doesn’t have the most flattering name. It’s part of the stinkhorn species, which as their names suggest, give off a rather unpleasant smell. They give off a scent similar to roadkill or decaying flesh, attracting flies to carry off their spores.
The octopus stinkhorn looks particularly gruesome, starting off as an “egg” before four-to-seven dark red limbs emerge and split off into tentacles. The fully mature mushroom smells like rotting flesh, and looks almost alien.
#4 The Veiled Lady
Another species of stinkhorn, the veiled lady, or bridal veil fungus, also emits a rotten stench to attract insects. It looks eerily elegant, with its long lacy “skirt” falling down to form a sort of cage. This mushroom is surprisingly edible, with a history of use in traditional Chinese medicine due to its antioxidant properties. Its silhouette and delicate details conjure images of Victorian corpse brides.
#3 Devil’s Tooth
The devil’s tooth is also called strawberries and cream, the red-juice tooth, and the bleeding tooth fungus. While the adult forms of this species are plain brown, younger mushrooms leak globules of red liquid that give off the appearance of blood. This is actually an anticoagulant similar to sap, and it disappears as the mushroom ages. The “tooth” part of its name comes from its underside, which is made up of tiny tooth-like ridges.
#4 Green Pepe
Bioluminescent mushrooms are a fantastic addition to fantasy or sci-fi landscapes, but did you know they also exist in real life? Growing in subtropical areas, bioluminescent mushrooms like the green pepe glow in the dark, adding some mystical flair to decaying logs. They only give off that gorgeous glow during humidity and only for a short amount of time, so catching a glimpse of this sight is a rare delight!
#5 Zombie Ant Fungus
Now this is something straight of a horror movie. This particular fungus is a parasite that attaches to ants, eventually breaking through their exoskeleton. The fungus spreads through the ant’s body to its brain and completely takes over. The ant is driven to climb as high as it can to the canopies, where it will then clamp its mandibles down on the vein of a leaf. The fungus anchors the ant to the leaf with mycelia (fungal roots) to keep it in place. The ant has done its duty; now, a fungal stalk breaks out of the ant’s head as all of its muscles atrophy, killing it. The stalk then releases more spores, and the cycle begins again. This process takes 4-10 days, and can destroy entire ant colonies.
This is one of my favourite types of fungus, just because of how creepy and unreal it seems.
There are plenty more weird and wonderful mushrooms and fungi in the world and it’s impossible to list them all. But this sample I’ve provided for you today proves that science fiction isn’t too far off from reality if we look close enough.