Scientists find a phenomenal fungal colony in the forests of Michigan preying on trees and roots through its vast underground network.
A fungus has been growing for over 2,500 years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and now takes up 75 hectares, but aside from a few scientists and residents, no one has seen the impressive creature.
Scientists from Canadian and U.S. universities are taking a better look at the massive mushroom in Michigan and say it is at least 2,500 years old and takes up about 140 football fields. They estimated its age by the fungal growth rate and genetic mutation but speculate it could be even older than the estimated two-and-a-half millenia.
The scientists, who published their findings in The Royal Society, say the mushroom genetically mutated at an extraordinarily slow rate, which gave it stability.
"We believe that this low rate of mutations is perhaps a key to the genetic stability of this fungus and could be one of the explanations for its stability," lead researcher and University of Missouri botany professor, Johann Bruhn, told reporters.
Bruhn began to study this exact ‘honey fungus’, Armillaria gallica, along with geneticist James Anderson and Myron Smith from Carleton University in Ottawa back in the 1980s. A decade later the scientists proposed that the mushroom was about 1,500 years old and weighed about a ton.
With more modern genetic testing available the scientists were able to come closer to the truth regarding the giant fungus that feeds off of decaying wood and tree roots of Michigan forests allowing to expand to its current size.
The A. gallica sends up yellow-spotted mushrooms as fruit and are what give the ‘honey fungus’ its trademark name.
"I thought (this) would offer a great opportunity to study the dynamics of mutations in a cell population that extends into space," Anderson told the BBC.
A. gallica lives mostly underground, extending into a vast network of filaments known as mycelium. The honey fungus is a sort of predator infecting and weakening trees and roots to feed off the decomposed wood.
The scientist say they still don’t understand why the fungus has such a low mutation rate, but are guessing it has to do with it living underground out of the way of ultraviolet sun rays.
Another much larger Armillaria fungus has been found in Oregon, A. solidipes has been estimated to be around 8,000 years old and covers around 10 square km.