The Amateur Mycologist #7 - Amanita bisporigera - "The Destroying Angel"
These posts are not for foraging. They are intended for entertainment and educational purposes only. These posts are not a field guide nor comprehensive in any way - their accuracy is not assured in any way. Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are a professional or have a wealth of personal experience with a specific species. Do not make any foraging decisions based on these posts.
These Posts Don't Usually Contain Information Regarding Edibility Or Toxicity - But In The Case Of The Destroying Angel, I'll Make An Exception - Stay Away From Mushrooms That Look Like This
The deadliest mushroom in North America.
The "Destroying Angel" is a nickname well earned. The positive half of its nickname comes from its pure white color and beautiful, classic mushroom structure.
But, Amanita bisporigera is truly an angel of destruction. When people talk about their fear of mushrooms - indeed when I insist you do not eat what you find - it is with this mushroom, and others like it, in mind.
Let's be clear about this:
If you eat an Amanita bisporigera you will likely die.
Even eating a small amount can potentially kill you, or leave you without a working liver. It is a truly deadly and frightful mushroom, and one of a select few which define my own mushroom hunting parameters. It is also fairly rare, and I have never encountered one - so the photos will be wikicommons with sources at the bottom.
Let's dive in.
The Destroying Angel is positively rife with mycotoxins. The primary type of mycotoxin is a group called amatoxins, of which this mushroom can contain up to three: beta-Amanitin,alpha-Amanitin, and gamma-Amanitin. None of these are good for you, but alpha-Amanitin is the biggest problem. It is easily absorbed by your body, it takes only .1 milligrams for every kilogram of body weight to kill you, and each mushroom contains 10-12 milligrams, so it's pretty easy to get a deadly dose.
The way alpha-Amanitin works is particularly insidious. It stops your cells from being able to transcribe DNA. This may not sound like a big deal to some, but your body is transcribing DNA all the time. Your body is in a constant state of making new cells, it's what keeps us all alive. Alpha-Amanitin prevents your body from copying your DNA into your new cells, which means your body can't make any new cells.
The result is a terrifying break down of your bodily functions, but not all at once. The toxin acts in clear stages:
- The Incubation stage: This stage has no symptoms and lasts from 6 to 12 hours after eating the mushroom.
- The Gastrointestinal stage: This starts about 6 - 16 hours after you eat the mushroom. You get terrible stomach pain, vomit everywhere and have diarrhea for as long as 24 hours. Then, things calm down, and you feel better - almost like nothing happened, for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.
- The Cytotoxic stage: This is where the mushroom truly begins to kill you. Your cells are dying, as they always are, but your body is not able to replace them because the toxin prevents you from transcribing DNA. This primarily effects your liver, where cell death and replacement occurs very quickly. Over 24 to 48 hours your liver will slowly die and, depending on how much you ate and how quickly you got appropriate treatment, eventually stop working altogether. Once your liver goes, your kidneys follow and, if left untreated, you usually die at this point. If treated, many usually die anyway - or require liver transplants. For a harrowing tale of one survivor, take a look at this.
The toxin is virulent and if you believe you have eaten this mushroom you should go to the emergency room immediately. Ideally you should bring a piece of the mushroom with you for identification purposes.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that this mushroom won't hunt you down and find you. It isn't poisonous to touch, or smell, or even to chew up and spit out (ALTHOUGH OBVIOUSLY DO NOT DO THIS). In order for this mushroom to kill you, you've got to eat it. So let's go over some details.
This picture right above tells us a few things about the mushroom, its habitat and its development cycle. To begin with, the mushroom is a nearly pure white color. Like most Amanita species, it begins life in a round, solid egg or button. This is referred to as the "volva".
I wanted to get a picture of the volva before it hatched, I think it is important to see, but there are no public domain images. However, if you look at the young specimen above, you can see the remains of the egg - the volva - at the base of the stem. All Destroying Angels will have this volva at their base. However, sometimes the volva can be destroyed or obscured by dirt and may not be obvious
Destroying Angels are Agaricales, or gilled mushrooms, which can grow on the floors of most North American forests. Like the Lactarius Indigo last time, the Destroying Angel is mycorrhizal and grows in a mutually symbiotic relationship with nearby trees. The Mushrooms are usually found in summer or early fall, and will usually grow by oaks, except in western North America where they could be found near birch or aspens.
The spore print will be white - but this is the case with most Amanita species. As is the presence of a "universal veil" or veil remnant. In a young specimen, the veil will still be intact as a white covering connecting the stem to the cap edge and fully covering the gills.
If you scroll back up to the top picture, you can see the remnant of the veil hanging down from the middle of the stem fairly prominently. This is another tell tale sign of a Destroying Angel - but is also a sign of many other Amanita species, as well as other mushrooms.
In fact, there are a number of characteristics the Destroying Angel shares with other Amanita and non-Amanita mushroom species, several of them edible. This can easily lead to confusion. Aside from telling you to never eat your finds, I abide by a separate rule.
If a mushroom has any of the major characteristics of a Destroying Angel - or indeed of any Amanita - there is no chance I will ever eat it.
Some mushroom lovers will call this a draconian response. That's their prerogative. As far as I'm concerned, if any gilled mushroom, growing on the ground, shares any primary feature of an Amanita - a volva, a veil remnant, white or yellow color, non-attached, close packed gills, white spore print - I will not eat it.
That doesn't mean I won't try to identify it! The identifying process is as rewarding, if not more so, when the mushroom is rare or dangerous! I just won't ever - ever - think of ingesting anything that looks even a little like this killer, and neither should you.
Cap = 1.2 - 3.9 in diameter (3-10 cm) - starts egg shaped, becomes convex, matures to almost flat. Smooth, white, sticky sometimes in wet weather.
Gills = Free or just slightly attached. White and crowded. Lots of short gills not making it to the stem - called lamellulae. Covered by universal veil in young specimens.
Flesh = Thin and white, does not change color if you bruise it. (some mushrooms do).
Stem ("stipe") = white - 2.4-5.5 in by .3-.7in(6-14cm by .7 - 1.8cm), solid, tapers toward the top - sometime the surface will be covered in either a soft hairlike substance, small thin fibers, or tiny scales - less when matured. At the base there will usually be the remains of the volva and near the top/middle of mature specimens the remains of the universal veil hanging down.
Spore Print = White
Ecology ("What it grows on") = Mycorrhizal, found in forests - often near Oaks, except possibly other trees in the northwestern US
Distribution = North America, as far south sometimes as Colombia.
Edibility = DEADLY POISONOUS We don't eat any of our finds, but WE ESPECIALLY DON'T EAT ANYTHING THAT LOOKS ANYTHING LIKE THIS
Other Traits = Starts as an all white egg, a volva, sometimes buried in the dirt. In this stage, it can be mistaken for a puffball. Bifurcating the egg will help to distinguish, as Amanita's will have immature gills inside, while puffballs will be uniform white flesh.
The only 100% way to avoid being hurt by a wild mushroom is not to eat a wild mushroom. These posts are not field guides - they are intended for the mycology enthusiast, not the forager. If you want to forage mushrooms there are professional resources available to that end online as well as local mycological societies all over the world which you should connect to for guidance.
For The Online Mycokey program look Here
For a Glossary Of Relevant Mycological Terms, Micheal Kuo's Website Provides
Picture Sources By Dan Molter (shroomydan) (Amanita bisporigera G. F. Atk. (17932)) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons By Dan Molter (shroomydan) (Amanita bisporigera G. F. Atk. (55047)) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons By Edgar181 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons By This image was created by user Britt Bunyard (Fungi magazine) (bbunyard) at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images. You can contact this user here. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons By This image was created by user Dan Molter (shroomydan) at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images. You can contact this user here. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons