Science nerds have been buzzing for a while about the discovery that mushrooms can communicate with each other via a network of electrical signals.
But a new study listened in on a mushroom “conversation” and discovered that the fungi really start blabbing after a rainfall, so to speak.
Japanese researchers from Tohoku University, Nagaoka College and Kyoto University experimented on a cluster of mushrooms by measuring electrical activity in their fruit — the visible, above-ground portion of the fungus.
They noted that the area had been dry in recent weeks, and electrical activity significantly increased after a typhoon dropped rainfall in the region.
“In the beginning, the mushrooms exhibited less electrical potential, and we boiled this down to the lack of precipitation,” said Yu Fukasawa, the main author of the study, in a statement. “However, the electrical potential began to fluctuate after raining, sometimes going over 100 mV.”
Mushrooms connect to each other with a network of underground strands called hyphae, which together form the mycelium. Electrical signals travel along the hyphae, making a transmission of sorts.
Scientists are split, however, about what those bursts of activity could mean. One researcher compared the patterns of electrical bursts to human speech and identified around 50 “words” among four species of mushroom.
Scientists believe the mushrooms could simply be signaling their presence. Or, they could be alerting other parts of the fungus gossip network to threats or attractants.
But perhaps they’re not “saying” anything at all. That’s what Dan Bebber, associate professor of biosciences at the University of Exeter, told The Guardian in 2022, although he agrees the electrical bursts aren’t random.
“Though interesting, the interpretation as language seems somewhat overenthusiastic, and would require far more research and testing of critical hypotheses before we see ‘Fungus’ on Google Translate,” Bebber said.
Buzzkill! Nonetheless, the Tohoku University study could be an example of mushrooms displaying something like communication — even if it’s just a little small talk about the weather. The main takeaway of this study appears to be the fact that more research is needed.