Poisonous Death Cap Mushrooms in North American Ecosystems


There’s nothing in the taste of a death cap mushroom that warns you they are toxic. A person who eats one could be fine for quite a while before becoming ill. If the patient doesn’t make the connection, it can be hard to diagnose.

The first symptoms to appear are nausea and vomiting which could be attributed to general food poisoning and other ailments.

In 2016 the San Francisco Bay area 14 individuals became seriously ill from eating death cap mushrooms and a child suffered neurological damage.

The deadly mushroom contains two toxins, one of which causes nausea, vomiting, and dehydration and another which is more deadly because it cells from functioning.  A liver transplant may be necessary for a victim to survive.

A relationship between two organisms of different species

The “death cap” mushroom (Amanita Phalloides) is a type of mushroom that lives in the exterior regions of plant roots. As it develops it interacts with the tree, extracting nitrogen from the ground and transporting it to the tree. It is a mutually beneficial relationship as it receives carbon from the tree.

Where does the death cap mushroom come from?

The mushroom is not native to California and must have made its way over from Europe at some point. A widely held theory on how it happened was that it came with the cork oaks that were delivered from Europe.

There is not enough evidence to confirm this theory although the species of the mushroom found in California and Europe are virtually identical. The first sighting of the death cap mushroom was in 1977 in British Columbia and it was found among Sweet Chestnut trees imported from Europe.

Symptoms and treatment

The symptoms take some time to develop because dispersal in the body takes place in three stages. The first stage involves nausea and vomiting. In stage two, liver damage occurs.

In stage three liver damage advances and seizures, brain swelling, blood pressure loss and comas can occur. In the worst-case scenario, the individual will die. The frightening aspect of this type of poisoning is that it is long and slow.

Patients are given fluid because the levels of fluid loss are quite dramatic. It is important to keep watching the liver and if it starts failing, the patient needs to undergo a transplant.

Don’t ingest wild mushrooms

The death cap mushroom has a faintly greenish stem, brown patterns on the cap and a ring around its trunk but it is often difficult to distinguish between edible and inedible mushrooms.  It is better not to ingest wild mushrooms at all.

Being poisoned by touching one isn’t likely as the toxins don’t go through the skin but it is better to stay away from this anyway.

Poisoning from death caps is still fairly rare in America although the species accounts for more than 90% of mushroom-related poisonings worldwide.

On average one individual dies in North America every year from ingesting death caps but the number is increasing as the mushroom spreads.

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