Bioluminescent Fungi, Western Ghats, Goa

Omkar Dharwadkar

Omkar Dharwadkar

Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'

Bioluminescent fungi can be seen growing on dead tree trunks and fallen vegetation in high humid conditions. Most of them belong to a genus called Mycena (bonnet mushroom).

With an estimated 3.5 million species of fungi, only about 148,000 are known to us today. Amongst these wide varieties of fungi, there are bioluminescent fungi like this one found in the Western Ghats of Goa and other tropical rainforests. Currently, there are more than a hundred known species of these bioluminescent fungi, most of them belong to a genus called Mycena (bonnet mushroom) (inset picture). 

A few weeks into the monsoon the forest floor starts glowing subtly as the humidity goes up. This glow either increases or decreases, depending on the consistency of the monsoon showers. We often see decaying matter glowing on the forest floor or even tree barks glowing up to about 6 feet above the ground. Some are bright and would reflect light on a nearby object whereas some needed very close observation in pitch darkness to make out the glow. 

While the functions of bioluminescence are not known in all organisms, typically it is used to warn or evade predators, lure or detect prey, and communication between members of the same species. Do the mushrooms emit bioluminescence only if certain conditions are met? What are the conditions that are required for them to glow? And the most important one, what is the significance of the glow in fungi?

These several questions remain and will only yield answers as one drives deeper into their world. Detailed research is the need of the hour to understand the fascinating mysteries behind these glowing fungi.

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