Did you know there are carnivorous mushrooms?

Have you ever wondered what mushrooms feed on? You probably know the answer to this question, but most mushrooms, which are a type of fungus, feed on the remains of dead plants and animals present in the soil or act as parasites, living at the expense of other organisms. However, there are exceptions and today I am talking about one of them: carnivorous mushrooms.

When we hear the word carnivore, we may automatically think of a predator that attacks its prey. Perhaps we could even think of these mushrooms as the equivalent of carnivorous plants, but in the realm of fungi. I inform you that no. The word carnivore refers only to a type of food based on living or dead animals. Furthermore, the way mushrooms capture their prey is completely different from any of the previous examples. First, they only feed on nematodes. These nematodes are worms less than 2.5 mm in size that live in the soil. Most carnivorous fungi release substances that mimic nematode food to attract them to themselves. Once attracted, the nematodes become entangled in their hyphae, which are the equivalent of plant roots in fungi, and end up serving as food for the carnivorous fungus that attracted them.

But there is a carnivorous mushroom that has an even more complex strategy, and a study was recently published about this particular fungus. I’m talking about the oyster mushroom, its scientific name Pleurotus ostreatus.

Unlike other carnivorous fungi, which imprison their food by trapping it in their hyphae, the oyster mushroom has a type of tiny sacs called toxocysts in its hyphae. When they touch these toxocysts, the nematodes rupture them and release a type of poison that quickly paralyzes and then kills the worm.

Archers have been spotted before. The innovation is the discovery of the substance contained in them, called 3-octanone, which has never before been identified in a mushroom. In addition, nematode is a type of parasite, and there are nematodes that act as parasites in our intestines, which can cause diseases in humans. It is not known whether this new substance will have immediate use for us in the future, but it would not be the first time that a substance was discovered in nature that years later came to be used as an antibacterial or antiparasitic.

Considering the peculiarity of the discovery, it’s inevitable that researchers will wonder what caused the oyster mushroom to evolve differently from other species. There is no answer to this question, only speculation. It is known that similar, but completely harmless substances are used by fungi as a means of communication with each other. It is possible that a genetic mutation led to the production of this substance instead of the more common ones and proved advantageous to the species. It is also known that these mushrooms usually live on dead or decaying tree trunks. In this environment, it is difficult for the species to get the nutrients it needs to survive. This difficulty may also have forced them to evolve into better and more efficient predators. It is also hypothesized that toxocysts also serve as a defense mechanism against nematodes, since some of these worms feed on fungal hyphae.

All are valid assumptions, but today we know a little more about this carnivorous mushroom, how it feeds and what substance it uses to poison its prey.

Based on: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.ade4809

The texts in this section reflect the personal opinion of the authors. They do not represent VISION or reflect its editorial position.

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