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Poisonous Death Cap Mushrooms Are Spreading Fast In North American Ecosystems

Image Source: manulito / Shutterstock

In 2016, there was a sudden increase of the amanita phalloides, known as the “death cap” mushroom in the San Francisco Bay area. Fourteen people consumed these poisonous mushrooms, leading to severe illness. Tragically, a child experienced neurological damage.

Amanita phalloides is considered a “mutualist” in mycology, as explained by Anne Pringle, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This type of fungus forms a mutually beneficial relationship with host trees, exchanging nitrogen for carbon.

In California, death cap mushrooms thrive near coast live oaks, while on the East Coast, they are commonly found near pine trees. In Europe, these mushrooms grow alongside beech and oak trees.

Origin and Spread of the Death Cap

Amanita phalloides, a species brought over from Europe, is now found in California. The genetic makeup of the California and European death caps is quite similar. The first sightings in California date back to the late 1930s and mid-1940s at specific locations.

There is a theory that the fungus arrived in California with cork oaks from Europe, although this has not been definitively proven.

Effects of Death Cap Poisoning

Consuming a death cap can lead to severe symptoms due to its toxins. The toxins cause gastrointestinal issues and severe damage to the liver, potentially requiring a liver transplant for survival.

The toxins progress through three phases in the body, leading to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, liver damage, seizures, and, in the worst cases, death.

Not Safe for Consumption

It is crucial to avoid consuming wild mushrooms, especially if you are not an expert. Death caps have distinct features, such as greenish coloring, brown striations on the cap, and a ring around the stem. Touching the mushroom is unlikely to cause poisoning, but ingestion can be extremely dangerous.

While death cap poisoning is rare in America, it can be deadly, with a fatality rate between 10-15%. It is advisable to enjoy hikes but steer clear of wild mushrooms.

Image Source: manulito / Shutterstock

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