Magic Mushrooms: Ones That Talk

Tara Gumpper, Writer

You might have heard of magic mushrooms: those fungi that cause people to hallucinate. However, scientists have discovered a different kind of magic mushrooms. These kinds of mushrooms… talk. 

Storybook Origins That Turned Out To Be True

Lewis Carroll was a famous and imaginative writer. He wrote the Alice and Wonderland chronicles, in which he detailed interesting ideas – invisible cats, shrinking potions, and talking mushrooms. However, one of these predictions turned out to be true. There are mushrooms that do, in fact, talk.

The mushroom language is composed of at least 50 different words. A study was published by the Royal Society Open Science journal. Unexpectedly, the scientists discovered that the organisms are some of the biggest chatterboxes in the world of plants! Andrew Atmatzky was the head of this team, and they studied four species of mushrooms.

Electrical Fungi

Mushrooms send electrical signals through a network of ‘roots’ called mycelium. The electrical signals, Atmatzky noted, undeniably spiked in some situations.

Multiple mushroom networks grow out of the same mycelium. Mycelium are quite similar to the neurons in the human brain – they send electrical signals to get messages to each other. Electrical signals sent by one mushroom travel through the mycelium, and the other mushrooms on the same mycelium network pick up the pulses. 

According to Atmatzky, “Assuming that the spikes of electrical activity are used by fungi to communicate, we demonstrate that the distributions of fungal word length match that of human languages. We found that the size of fungal vocabulary can be up to fifty words, however, the core vocabulary of most frequently used words does not exceed fifteen or twenty words.”

The Electricity Test

For the studies, Atmatzky used four different species of mushrooms to test his theories: the enoki, split gill, ghost, and caterpillar. He inserted small electrodes — electrical conductors — into the surface of soil where each particular mushroom was growing. These electrodes analyzed the electrical signals that each mushroom produced. Out of the four mushrooms, the split gill mushroom produced the most electricity. 

The split gill mushroom survives off of rotting wood. When the mycelium of the split gills came in contact with a ‘new’ piece of wood, the mushrooms would send out signals that there was food nearby. 

Each word that the mushrooms produced had on average, 5 to 6 letters. English has a letter average of 4 to 5 letters per word. This causes Atmatzky to realize that the electrical pulses aren’t random. However, he also recognizes that there’s still more studies to complete. 

Could Be Nothing

Another option is that the electrical signals aren’t saying anything. More studies are going to be conducted, in order to figure out the true meaning of these signals. However, it seems as if the mushrooms are indeed talking, so we can probably assume that for now.

Warning Signs

The mushrooms seem to have developed ways to warn each other about any possible dangers. For example, a mushroom would send electrical signals if it picked up that bad weather was coming. Additionally, the mushrooms also talk to notify others in the ‘cluster’ that they’re there. 

All in all, these amazing fungi are stepping up their communication game. Their electrical signals sent to each other truly resemble talking. We don’t entirely know yet, but these mushrooms seem to talk to each other just like us humans talk to one another. If Lewis Carroll was right about talking mushrooms…maybe we’ll find some talking cats in the future too!

 

Works Cited

Cost, Ben. “Mushrooms Can Talk to — and Protect — Each Other with ‘up to 50 Words.’” New York Post, 7 Apr. 2022, nypost.com/2022/04/07/mushrooms-can-talk-to-each-other-with-up-to-50-words.

Geddes, Linda. “Mushrooms Communicate with Each Other Using up to 50 ‘Words’, Scientist Claims.” The Guardian, 6 Apr. 2022, www.theguardian.com/science/2022/apr/06/fungi-electrical-impulses-human-language-study.

Margaritoff, Marco. “New Study Shows Mushrooms ‘Talk’ To Each Other Using Up To 50 Words.” All That’s Interesting, 7 Apr. 2022, allthatsinteresting.com/mushroom-communication.