Murderous Mushrooms

I decided to check out the annual Pt. Reyes National Seashore Fungus Fair last Sunday. Already grumpy from a fender-bender in the Bear Valley Visitor Center parking lot, Debbie Viess’ lecture, “Amanitarita’s Freaky and Fabulous Fungi” effectively turned my thoughts to murder. It certainly shed the illusion of mushrooms as charming abodes for prancing woodland critters. So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Murderous Mushrooms:

#5: I’m So Horny I Could Die

Coprinus comatusCoprinus comatus ©2014 by Django Grootmyers (heelsplitter) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

This innocent-looking fella self-digests. Yes, that’s right. It eats itself. Because of its shape and its gills being so crowded together, Coprinus comatus can’t just release its spores like other mushrooms. Instead, it dissolves itself into an inky mess to reproduce. That’s quite a trade-off to get laid.

 #4: It’s a Trap!

Arthrobotrys feedingArthrobotrys feeding ©2013 by Mf09ry

Arthrobotrys dactyloides sets up snares made out of loops formed by its hyphae. When an unsuspecting nematode comes in contact with the loops, the loop constricts like a noose around the hapless nematode faster than you can say, “It’s a trap!”

 #3: The Blob

Hypomyces lactifluorumHypomyces lactifluorum ©2015 by Drew Henderson (Hendre17) licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

You’re a happy little milkcap, thriving in a delightfully soggy peat moss bed. While edible, you exude a particularly fishy odor which, thus far, has dissuaded the appetites of potential predators. Life is good, you muse. But lo, lurking in shadows, biding its time is the cannibal, Hypomyces lactifluorum! A parasitic fungus, it sees its chance and mounts a silent attack. Your milky complexion turns lobster red as it covers you, feeds on you, and <gasp!> becomes you. Your horrific transformation complete, your dying thoughts are, it’s a fungi eat fungi world…

 #2: Night of the Living Tarantula

OphiocordycepsOphiocordyceps caloceroides ©2009 by Daryl Thompson (woobs) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Ophiocordyceps caloceroides attacks the brain first, then feeds on non-vital tissue. It spreads through the spider’s body who, by this time is thinking, hey, something’s not right here. The fungus then kills the spider and continues to grow until it invades the softer tissue and strengthens the exoskeleton. When ready to reproduce, the fungus grows out of the spider and releases spores. The entire process lasts days. ‘Nuff said.

#1: Murder Mystery Mushrooms

Cortinarius rubellusCortinarius rubellus ©2005 by Eric Steinert licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

While there are many poisonous mushrooms out there (with the infamous death cap topping the list), my ears perked up when Amanitarita proclaimed, “And this is a particularly good murder mystery mushroom.” Apparently, ingesting lethal webcaps from the genus Cortinarius result in delayed poisonings, potentially up to 3 weeks. In which time, you would have lined up a credible alibi or fled the country.

Coprinopsis atramentariaCoprinopsis atramentaria ©2015 Tim Sage (T. Sage) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

This also brought to mind a close runner-up featured in a Rosemary & Thyme episode, “Orpheus in the Undergrowth,” the common inkcap, a.k.a., tippler’s bane, which is poisonous only when consumed with alcohol. Murder plots that practically write themselves.

So there you have it – mushrooms that kill themselves, microscopic worms, each other, spiders and perish the thought, humans.


  • Dates: The dates for the 12th annual Pt. Reyes National Seashore Fungus Fair in early 2017 have yet to be determined (the 11th annual fair was held on January 3, 2016)
  • Location: Bear Valley Visitor Center, Pt. Reyes National Seashore
  • Schedule: The 2017 schedule has yet to be determined (2016 events included forays, displays of dozens of species of fungi and public talks)
  • For More Information: Bay Area Mycological Society

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