Bioluminescence in some mushrooms has baffled the scientists since long. One such special mushroom, called ‘flor de coco,’ grows among decaying leaves at the bottom of young palm trees in coconut forests of Brazil. However, a recent research has uncovered the secret behind the bioluminescence of this big yellow mushroom. The researchers conducted an experiment and observed that the mushroom attracts insects and other creatures with its nighttime bioluminescence, which helps it to spread spores throughout the forest.
Aristotle was the first to ask about the unusual glowing of the mushroom. Biochemist Cassius Stevani from Brazil’s Instituto de Quimica-Universidade de Sao Paulo explained “The answer appears to be that fungi make light so they are noticed by insects who can help the fungus colonize new habitats.” The concept of bioluminescence has been further explained by Jay Dunlap, geneticist and molecular biologist from Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine. This unique feature has evolved in several life forms like fishes, bacteria and insects. He remarked “Most of these make light in their own way, that is, with biochemistry that is unique to each organism.”
Out of 100,000 discovered fungus species, 71 are presently known to be bioluminescent. The researchers focused on ‘flor de coco’ as it is the biggest and brightest among all. After examining the body of the fungus, it was found that the bioluminescence functions with a circadian clock, due to which it glows only at nighttime. For the experiment, two mushroom replicas were created, one with LED light and the other one with no light. On the fake mushrooms, the researchers put glue to determine if they attract insects. The replicas were then placed in the forest amid the real ones.
It was observed that several types of insects, including cockroaches, ants, flies, beetles, spiders, slugs, snails, harvestmen, and centipedes, got attracted and stuck to the one with LED light. As the insects crawl on the real mushroom, the spores stick to their legs and later spread all over the forest when the insects travel. The team concluded that bioluminescence has developed in many mushrooms to serve the purpose of population growth.