Why Do Some Mushrooms Glow In The Dark?

Illustration for article titled Why Do Some Mushrooms Glow In The Dark?

Bioluminescence is not just a weirdly beautiful quality of some mushrooms. It's also a useful way to figure out, for instance, whether you've found a patch of delicious chanterelles or their look-alike Jack-o-lantern mushrooms, which are poisonous. But why does it happen?

A new study published in Current Biology by researchers from Darthmouth's Geisel School of Medicine looks into the issue of why Brazil's Neonothopanus gardneri mushroom has such a psychadelic hue and concludes that its not about the mushroom at all. It's about the bugs.

To come to their conclusions, they mocked up two sticky-surfaced fake mushroom models, and then popped an LED green light at the same frequency of the mushrooms in one while leaving the other in the dark. In the much more equitable light of day, the LED-lit faux fungi had more of all sorts of insects, not unlike the mechanism that draws bugs towards a zapper.


The full study is over at Current Biology.

Image: Michele P. Verderane/IP-USP-2008, via Dartmouth University

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Should note that the photo is super-over-exposed. Most bio-luminescent shrooms glow so faintly you barely register it unless it's completely pitch black out.