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Poisonous and Deadly Mushrooms

Introduction

Understanding the dangers associated with certain types of mushrooms is crucial for foragers, chefs, and anyone interested in mycology. While many mushrooms are harmless and even delicious, there are those that can cause severe illness and even death if ingested. In this section, we'll explore poisonous and deadly mushrooms, providing an overview of what makes them dangerous, how to identify them, and precautions to take when foraging.

Mushrooms, being a large group within the fungi kingdom, exhibit an array of chemical compounds. Some of these compounds are beneficial or even essential for human health, while others can be harmful. Recognizing the difference is a critical skill for anyone interacting with mushrooms in the wild or the kitchen.

Understanding Poisonous Mushrooms

Poisonous mushrooms contain harmful toxins that can cause a variety of symptoms, from mild discomfort to severe organ damage. These toxins are often resistant to heat and cannot be removed by cooking. The severity of the poisoning often depends on the amount ingested, the specific type of mushroom, and individual physiological factors such as age and overall health.

Understanding the types of toxins present in different mushrooms can help clarify why some species are harmless while others can be lethal. For example, the toxins in Amanita phalloides, also known as the death cap, cause cellular destruction, particularly in the liver and kidneys. Other mushrooms, like the false morel, contain a toxin that can cause dizziness, nausea, and in severe cases, seizures.

Top Deadly Mushrooms

Here, we'll explore some of the most deadly mushrooms known to science. Please note that this list is not exhaustive and many other dangerous mushrooms exist. Also, this list is not ranked in order of danger. All mushrooms mentioned should be considered extremely dangerous and should not be ingested.

It's essential to understand that deadly mushrooms aren't confined to exotic locales; many can be found in your local woods or even your backyard. Some species, like the Destroying Angel, are native to North America and Europe and can easily be mistaken for edible varieties.

  • Amanita phalloides (Death Cap): This mushroom is responsible for the majority of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide. Its toxins can cause severe liver and kidney damage. More on iNaturalist
  • Amanita virosa (Destroying Angel): This is another extremely poisonous species of the Amanita genus. Like the Death Cap, it contains toxins that can lead to severe liver and kidney damage. More on iNaturalist
  • Amanita bisporigera (Eastern Destroying Angel): This mushroom is found in North America and, like its Amanita cousins, contains toxins that can lead to severe liver and kidney damage. More on iNaturalist
  • Amanita ocreata (Western Destroying Angel): Found in the western U.S., this mushroom is highly toxic and ingestion can lead to severe liver and kidney damage, and ultimately death. More on iNaturalist
  • Galerina marginata (Deadly Galerina): This small, brown mushroom is often found on rotting wood and can be easily mistaken for edible species. It contains the same deadly toxins as the Death Cap and Destroying Angel. More on iNaturalist
  • Lepiota brunneoincarnata (Deadly Parasol): This mushroom is especially dangerous because it can be mistaken for the edible Parasol mushroom. It is one of the most poisonous of the Lepiota species and has been responsible for several fatalities, particularly in southern Europe and North Africa. More on iNaturalist
  • Inocybe erubescens (Deadly Fibrecap): This is a common cause of mushroom poisoning in Europe. It contains muscarine, a toxin that can cause severe symptoms in humans. More on iNaturalist
  • Cortinarius rubellus (Deadly Webcaps): These mushrooms contain a toxin called orellanine, which can lead to kidney failure. They can be found in North America and Europe. More on iNaturalist
  • Cortinarius orellanus (Fool's Webcaps): These mushrooms contain a toxin called orellanine, which can lead to kidney failure. They can be found in North America and Europe. More on iNaturalist
  • Clitocybe dealbata (Ivory Funnel): This mushroom contains muscarine and can cause severe symptoms, especially when ingested in large amounts. More on iNaturalist
  • Gyromitra esculenta (False Morel): Often mistaken for a true morel, this mushroom contains the toxin gyromitrin, which can be highly dangerous. Extreme caution is advised to prevent inadvertent ingestion or misidentification. More on iNaturalist
  • Trichoderma cornu-damae (Poison Fire Coral): This vibrant red mushroom is one of the most deadly fungi, native to Asia and Australia. Consumption can lead to multiple organ failure and even death within days. Its potent toxins can also be absorbed through the skin, making handling dangerous. Despite its alarming appearance, it's often mistaken for harmless species. More on iNaturalist
  • Conocybe filaris (Deadly Conocybe): This small, brown mushroom is native to the Pacific Northwest and contains the same deadly toxins found in the Death Cap. More on iNaturalist
  • Amanita smithiana (Smith's Amanita): Found in North America and Asia, this mushroom can cause severe kidney damage if ingested. More on iNaturalist

Identifying Deadly Mushrooms

Accurately identifying deadly mushrooms can be a complex task. Many harmful species closely resemble their harmless counterparts, making it easy to mistake one for the other. When in doubt, it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid consuming any mushroom that you cannot positively identify.

Several factors go into accurately identifying mushrooms, including their size, shape, color, habitat, smell, and the time of year. It's also important to check for more subtle characteristics, like the color of the spore print or the presence of a volva (a cup-like structure at the base of the stem). Many deadly mushrooms, like those in the Amanita family, have distinctive volvas.

Top Common Poisonous Mushrooms

While not all poisonous mushrooms are deadly, many can still cause discomfort or illness. The following list includes common poisonous mushrooms that you might encounter. Remember, if you are uncertain about a mushroom's identity, do not consume it.

Even experienced foragers can be fooled, as many poisonous mushrooms closely resemble edible ones. For example, the toxic Jack-O'-Lantern mushroom can easily be mistaken for the edible Chanterelle. Therefore, thorough knowledge and caution are critical when hunting for mushrooms.

  • Amanita pantherina (Panther Cap): While not usually deadly, this mushroom can cause severe symptoms such as vomiting, delirium, and hallucinations. More on iNaturalist
  • Scleroderma citrinum (Common Earthball): This mushroom, often mistaken for an edible puffball, can cause severe gastrointestinal distress. More on iNaturalist
  • Boletus satanas (Devil's Bolete): This mushroom can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. More on iNaturalist
  • Russula emetica (The Sickener): As its name suggests, this mushroom can cause severe nausea and vomiting. More on iNaturalist
  • Russula nobilis (Beechwood Sickener): This mushroom can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. More on iNaturalist
  • Chlorophyllum molybdites (Green-spored Lepiota): This is the most commonly consumed poisonous mushroom in North America due to its resemblance to edible species. It can cause severe gastrointestinal distress. More on iNaturalist
  • Lactarius turpis (Ugly Milkcap): This mushroom can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and has a strong, acrid taste. More on iNaturalist
  • Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric): While not usually deadly, this mushroom can cause various symptoms, including nausea, hallucinations, and muscle twitching. More on iNaturalist:
  • Coprinopsis atramentaria (Common Ink Cap): This mushroom can cause symptoms when consumed with alcohol due to a compound it contains that interferes with the body's ability to break down alcohol. More on iNaturalist
  • Entoloma rhodopolium (Wood Pinkgill): This mushroom can cause gastrointestinal distress. More on iNaturalist
  • Lactarius torminosus (Woolly Milkcap): This mushroom can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. More on iNaturalist
  • Tricholoma equestre (Yellow Knight): Previously considered edible, recent studies have associated it with cases of rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition that can lead to kidney damage. More on iNaturalist
  • Agaricus xanthodermus (Yellow Stainer): Often mistaken for an edible Agaricus species, this mushroom can cause severe gastrointestinal distress. More on iNaturalist
  • Hypholoma fasciculare (Sulphur Tuft): This mushroom is bitter in taste and can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. More on iNaturalist
  • Omphalotus illudens (Jack O'Lantern): While not typically fatal, this mushroom can cause severe gastrointestinal distress. It's often mistaken for the edible Chanterelle. More on iNaturalist
  • Clitocybe rivulosa (Fool's Funnel): This mushroom can cause severe symptoms including sweating, salivation, tears, blurred vision, and hallucinations. More on iNaturalist
  • Lactarius helvus (Fenugreek Milkcap): This mushroom can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and has a smell reminiscent of fenugreek or curry. More on iNaturalist
  • Paxillus involutus (Brown Roll Rim): While some people eat this mushroom without ill effects, others can have severe reactions, including immune-mediated hemolysis, a condition where the body's immune system destroys its own red blood cells. More on iNaturalist
  • Amanita fulva (Tawny Grisette): While generally not deadly, this mushroom can cause gastrointestinal symptoms if eaten raw or undercooked. More on iNaturalist
  • Gyromitra infula (Elf's Saddle): While some individuals consume this mushroom without harm, others may react severely to its toxins, which can cause symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness, and in extreme cases, seizures or death. More on iNaturalist
  • Entoloma sinuatum (The Livid Pinkgill): This mushroom is poisonous and has been responsible for serious poisonings and at least one death. More on iNaturalist

Identifying Poisonous Mushrooms

Like their deadly counterparts, common poisonous mushrooms can also be tricky to identify due to their resemblance to edible species. Some may also look unassuming, with no obvious signs of danger. Therefore, proper knowledge and identification skills are crucial when foraging for mushrooms.

Mushrooms can change their appearance based on environmental conditions, which can make identification even more challenging. A dry spell, for instance, can alter the color and size of a mushroom significantly. Therefore, multiple sources of information should be used when identifying mushrooms.

Safety Precautions when Foraging Mushrooms

Foraging for mushrooms can be a rewarding activity, but it's not without its risks. Here are some safety precautions to consider:

  • Always accurately identify a mushroom before consuming it. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Consider going foraging with an experienced guide or mycologist who can help with identification.
  • Be aware that some mushrooms can be harmful if not cooked properly, even if they are not generally considered poisonous.
  • If you believe you've ingested a poisonous mushroom, seek medical help immediately. If possible, bring a sample of the mushroom for identification.

Proper equipment is also important when foraging. This includes a good field guide, a knife for harvesting mushrooms, and containers or bags for carrying them. It's also a good idea to keep a record of the places where you found different species, as many mushrooms tend to reappear in the same locations.

FAQs

What makes a mushroom poisonous or deadly?
Mushrooms become poisonous due to the presence of certain toxins. These can vary in potency, causing effects ranging from mild discomfort to serious illness or even death.

How can I tell if a mushroom is poisonous?
Without proper knowledge and identification skills, it can be difficult to tell if a mushroom is poisonous just by looking at it. Never rely on a single characteristic for identification. When in doubt, it's best not to consume the mushroom.

What should I do if I've ingested a poisonous mushroom?
If you suspect you've ingested a poisonous mushroom, seek medical help immediately. If possible, bring along a sample of the mushroom for identification. This can help medical professionals determine the best course of treatment.

Are all colorful mushrooms poisonous?
While it's true that many brightly colored mushrooms are poisonous, this is not a reliable rule for identification. Some poisonous mushrooms are quite dull in color, while some brightly colored ones are perfectly safe to eat.

Can cooking a poisonous mushroom make it safe to eat?
No, most toxins in poisonous mushrooms are heat-stable and won't be destroyed by cooking.

Do all psychedelic mushrooms bruise blue?

It's a common characteristic of many psychedelic mushrooms, particularly those containing psilocybin, to bruise blue when handled or damaged. However, not all blue-bruising mushrooms are psychedelic, and not all psychedelic mushrooms will necessarily exhibit this trait. It's crucial to have proper knowledge and not solely rely on this characteristic for identification.

What are some common myths about identifying poisonous mushrooms?
There are many myths about identifying poisonous mushrooms, such as "all poisonous mushrooms taste bad" or "all poisonous mushrooms will turn a silver spoon black." These are not reliable methods of identification and should not be trusted. Read more myths and misconceptions

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