The Fungus Among Us May Have Their Own Mushroom Language

Fungus may be capable of complex communication. Yes, your mushrooms could speak to one another in a language of their own. A computer scientist compared electrical signals in mushrooms to human language. And he found enough similarities between the mushroom language fungus uses and our own to make the claim. Andrew Adamatzky, the director of the well-named Unconventional Computing Laboratory in the UK, published his results in the peer-reviewed Royal Society Open Science.

Electrodes measure electrical signals in fungus, the spikes were used to determine a language. Fungus and mushrooms could communicate via their own language.
Andrew Adamatzky/Royal Society Open Science
Interpreting the Electrical Language of Mushrooms

Eight pairs of electrodes were stuck into each fungus to log electrical signals. Adamatzsky tracked the time between spikes as well as the frequency and amplitude. Algorithms then compared the fungi’s electrical activity to human word length, syntax, and language complexity.

Each of the four species of mushrooms studied has a unique electrical pattern, interpreted as different languages. Complexity varied, with the average around 15-20 words and a maximum of 50. As reported in The Guardian, Adamatzky didn’t offer any translation for the mushroom language. That is a future direction of the research, which should also include more species of fungus. Stimuli like food and stress help translate what the different electrical signals mean.

Electrodes measure electrical signals in fungus, the spikes were used to determine a language
Andrew Adamatzky/Royal Society Open Science

As a note, fungi are organisms, they contain everything from yeast to mold. Technically, mushrooms are the reproductive organ of the fungus, as fruit are to trees. Here, we’ve used mushroom language and fungus language interchangeably. But technically, if there was language, it would belong to the fungi, not the mushrooms. Mycelium, meanwhile, are networks of root-like threads that bore underground. Mycelia absorb nutrients and transfer them from one part of the fungus to another.

Fictional Fungi

If this sounds familiar, the spore drive in Star Trek: Discovery travels a galactic mycelial network. In fact, the astromycologist (space fungus scientist) Paul Stamets, played by Anthony Rapp, is based on a scientist of the same name. The real-life Stamets studies fungi and believes they can save the world.

Screenshot from Hannibal episode where a serial killer buried his victims and let mushrooms feed on them

Eldon Stammets, a serial killer from Hannibal, is also named after him. This fictional fungus enthusiast believes that mushrooms are better communicators than humans. He’d probably be a big supporter of the idea mushrooms have language. He plants his victims (buries them alive) to turn them into fungi. Sounds like a fun guy. There is actually a company making fungus coffins that turn decomposing bodies into thriving habitats. NASA is also researching bricks made of fungus for building off-world habitats.

The largest known organism on Earth is a honey fungus in Oregon. Underground mycelium span over 3.5 square miles. While there’s no doubt this humungous fungus communicates in some way, it will take more research to determine if electrical signals are part of its language. In the meantime, if you want to avoid eating talkative fungi, the four species studied were caterpillar, ghost, Enoki, and split gill.

Featured Image: Paramount Pictures

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