Humans aren’t the only species that communicates; nonhuman animals like marine mammals, birds, and even insects also “talk” to each other using sounds, scents, and body language, but have you ever heard of a communicating fungus? Scientists say wild mushrooms may actually communicate with each other, and new research suggests they’re particularly chatty after a good rain.
Parts of the scientific community have been investigating the possibility of electrical signal transfer between mushrooms and across trees via the mycelial networks. Mycelial networks are made up of a vast number of tiny threads from fungal organisms (mushrooms are actually the fruit of a fungus) that wrap around tree roots underground.
The network connects plants together and may facilitate the transfer of water, nitrogen, and carbon. Scientists have shown that fungi do generate electrical signals, and it’s possible these signals help the organisms communicate in some way, shape, or form.
What might a bunch of mushrooms on the forest floor talk about? They might coordinate growth or the transfer of nutrients. If that sounds too out there, consider this 2018 research study, which measured lab-grown mushrooms’ electrical output. The shrooms would “speak” spontaneously and when stimulated (e.g., placed near a heat source).
This 2022 study took it further and considered how these electrical signals could be translated into a sort of language. The researchers in this study concluded that fungi can use up to 50 “words,” with 15-20 core words used most frequently. Some species’ communication is more sophisticated than others, apparently.
“I’m Siiiiiinging in the Rain!” – Wild Mushroom
In a new study published in the June 2023 issue of Fungal Ecology, researchers hooked up six Laccaria bicolor mushrooms in the field to measure their electrical potential. The scientists report their shrooms practically sang after it rained. There was a direct correlation between rain and electrical output.
While scientists still don’t really know what all of this means, how fascinating that those wild mushrooms you pass on a backwoods hike are much more complex organisms than they seem. Next time you tramp through the forest, take a moment to marvel at the wonders beneath your feet.
What surprised you most? Tell us in the comments.