This month a rush of other-wordly looking mushrooms swept through Goa in india, capturing international attention. This spectacle is far from novel, with its origins dating back to ancient times—Aristotle himself penned its wonders in his writings.
The luminescence in these mushrooms is no illusion – it's a result of a complex enzymatic reaction. According to Jay Dunlap, a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, the enzyme luciferase acts on a substrate called luciferin, causing it to oxidize and release high-energy intermediates as light instead of heat.
While bioluminescence can be found in various species, its purpose can vary. Some organisms use it to attract mates, while others employ it as a defense mechanism to ward off predators. Mycena chlorophos, known as the 'night-light mushroom' or 'Green Pepe' in Japan, uses its glowing green light for a unique purpose – aiding in reproduction. Professor Dunlap explains that the luminous quality of these mushrooms attracts insects, which inadvertently pick up spores and disperse them across the forest as they move, contributing to the fungi's reproductive success.
Want to see these for yourself? Late summer and early autumn is the most likely time to spot them, as these months tend to provide the right combination of humid warm conditions along with decaying matter on the forest floor. The occurrence of bioluminescent mushrooms can be highly sporadic and extremely rare- let us know if you manage to spot one!