Bioluminesect 'Ghost' Fungus or Mushrooms

'Ghost’ Mushrooms Delight in Rare Glow-in-the-Dark Show

It's one of nature's most secretive light shows, but this glow-in-the-dark fungus only performs in a few bursts during a year. The bright green glow of the mushroom comes from a chemical reaction between fungal enzymes and oxygen. The mushrooms use a class of molecules called luciferins, which paired with an enzyme and oxygen, release light.It is the same compound found in other bioluminescent organisms eg fireflies. The reaction is temperature dependent, and this is why they glow at night. Bioluminescence attracts swarms of insects (not unlike a moth to a flame). Attracting insects is essential for fungi to spread its spores. The bioluminescent mushrooms then reproduce and colonize new areas of the forest as food sources.

The Ghost Mushroom

It is easy to see why Omphalotus nidiformis is nicknamed the 'Ghost mushroom' and this is why Aboriginal tribes believed they carried a certain power.Apparently early settlers were spooked by the glow. The species was first officially documented by Scottish naturalist James Drummond near Perth in 1842. However, early settlers and Indigenous tribes were already well aware of the glowing ground-dwelling fungi and were often terrified by the night glow.

Omphalotus nidiformis, primarily occurs in southern Australia and Tasmania. At night, the fungi sprout a fan-shaped mushroom which gently glows a spectral green due to a chemical reaction between fungal enzymes and oxygen. But the window to witness this spectacle is short — literally a few weeks a year. Boom-time is mid-autumn, when the weather turns cooler and rain tempts the fungi to sprout into mushrooms.

The mushrooms or fungus, a creamy-white colour in the day time are often found in Booderee National Park around the banksia trees.

This fungus is one of around 80 or more across the world (here) that is bioluminescent with just a handful of species in Australia. The glow is a form of natural attraction, inviting insects to feed and thus, spread the fungi's spores further afield and although the fungi's lifespan is quite long, it remains underground for 99 per cent of the time. At certain times of the year when there is enough moisture, it fruits and during this time it drops spores in the wind and it will spread to other locations.

Possible Medical Use

The fungi may prove to be a powerful tool in treating types of cancer, with clinical trials currently underway, testing the chemotherapeutic properties of some of the fungi's compounds. However magical the appearance of this mushroom maybe, eating it is toxic for humans.

Photographing the 'Ghost’ Mushroom

The fungus should be photographed at night in its natural location with the aperture open for 30 seconds or more.


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With thanks to: Maree Clout (Jervis Bay Through My Eyes)

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