Bioluminescence, Fungi, Science



A bioluminescent jack-o’-lantern mushroom found in Pisgah National Forest, near Asheville, N.C. Credit Mike Belleme for The New York Times

Three of our favorite topics in one, thanks to Joanna Klein, the New York Times, and Science (the section of the paper and the thing itself):

PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST, N.C. — Here’s what I was told: Get away from the city, go during a new moon and keep my flashlight off. When the sky faded black enough to spot stars twinkling, I’d be able to see mushrooms glowing.

There are about 100,000 species of fungi, but only about 80 of them are bioluminescent, or glow in the dark. They pop up in tropical and temperate forests in the Americas, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and South Africa.

They emit green light, a result of nearly the same chemical reaction that illuminates the belly of a firefly or the skin of a squid, only the resulting light is constant in the mushroom, not on-demand or reactive as in some insects or marine animals. The molecules responsible for the colors are different too. And in a study published on Wednesday in Science Advances, researchers have finally revealed what’s going on inside these flamboyant fungi — at a molecular scale.

With mushroom season approaching, you can see them glowing, too, and you don’t even need to leave the country. But you’ll need to practice patience and prepare for disappointment when heading out on the hunt. In a boggy forest near Asheville, N.C., I once spent a night two summers ago tracking down three species of glowing mushrooms. Lost in the dark with a dying phone and a forager known locally as the Mushroom Man, I learned that mushrooms are unpredictable…

Read the whole story here.

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