Facts About the Deadly Galerina

By Eve Simmons •  Updated: 06/16/21 •  8 min read

The Galerina marginata, also known worldwide as the funeral bell or the deadly skullcap, is one of the most harmful mushroom species known to humankind. Containing the toxins alpha-amanitin and other amatoxins that are deadly to humans, it bears a resemblance to other edible mushrooms, making it one of the most dangerous mushrooms in the world.

Where to Find Deadly Galerina

Galerina marginata is one of the most widespread species of mushrooms. They can be found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Because they feed on dead organic material, they are known as saprotrophs. Galerina loves to grow in places like forest floors, dead or dying tree stumps.

However, they are hardy and have been found everywhere, from isolated forests to urban centers in North America, Asia, and Europe. In North America, Galeria has been found as far north as the boreal forest of Canada’s Arctic Labrador and as far south as Jalisco, Mexico.

From forests to cities to parklands, as long as there is rotting wood or moss, you’ll find Galerina. A good rule of thumb is don’t eat any mushrooms growing on wood or moss, unless you are 100% certain that it’s not Galerina – one mistake can be fatal. 

Identifying the Deadly Galerina

Identifying the Galeria marginata can be difficult even for mycologists (mushroom experts) as its appearance is so similar to other edible species, particularly honey mushrooms, an edible lookalike species. Due to this, it has been labeled as an LBM, or little brown mushroom, a category used by experts to lump together all small-to-medium brown mushrooms that can grow on the forest floor.

Making it even more challenging to identify, Galerina can come in various appearances and can be found near and amongst edible species like Psilocybe mushrooms, which are known for their hallucinogenic properties. Even experienced mushroom hunters can have trouble identifying the distinct species from a tight cluster of little brown mushrooms growing together.

Markers of Galerina

Though the structure and color of Galerina can change as it ages, it does have some distinguishing features.

Another way to distinguish the Galerina from a Psilocybe mushroom is the color they turn when bruised. Psilocybe mushrooms tend to stain blue when bruised. The higher the psilocin content, the deeper blue the mushroom will stain.

What Makes the Galerina So Deadly?

Galerina marginata contain alpha-amanitin, possibly the most toxic of all amatoxins. 

alpha-Amanitin is a cyclic peptide of eight amino acids and is very lethal in small doses. Half a mushroom is enough to be deadly for a fully-grown human. 

Effects of alpha-Amanitin

Though typically not absorbed through the skin, the ingestion or inhalation of alpha-Amanitin and other amatoxins can cause disastrous side effects (including death) within days of consumption. 

Symptoms of alpha-Amanitin: 

Like radiation poisoning, amatoxin poisoning shows a biphasic pattern, meaning it occurs in two separate stages with a period of relative normalcy in between.

  1. Stage One: Acute symptoms lasting for 12-24 hours. This is when the majority of the effects listed above will occur.
  1. Stage Two: A period of relative wellness lasting for 12-24 hours. In this stage, the person will begin to feel better and may even return to relative normalcy. This latency period can be dangerous by fooling the person into believing they recovered.
  1. Stage Three: Liver and kidney failure occur rapidly, causing death without immediate transplants of the liver and kidneys.

Treatment of Amatoxin Poisoning

There is no easy cure or antidote for amatoxin poisoning. Supportive care is the primary treatment method. Testing for amatoxin poisoning is rarely available. The best option is to take a preventative approach from eating exotic mushrooms altogether.

If you find yourself eating poisonous mushrooms, here are proven methods to alleviate symptoms:

Because Galerina looks edible, a person who has accidentally ingested one may never know. To make matters worse, amatoxin poisoning may be similar to other illnesses, making diagnosing it difficult. All these factors lead to a death rate as high as 60%, making it one of the most lethal mushrooms in the world.

Can cooking a toxic mushroom make it safe?

No, the poisonous amatoxin-containing species of mushrooms cannot be made safe by cooking them. The alpha-amanitin chemical structure is heat stable, meaning you cannot cook the toxins out of them. They remain toxic, whether cooked or raw.

Can the toxins be absorbed through the skin?

The majority of amatoxins cannot be absorbed through the skin, so touching Galerina will not kill you. However, depending on the spore size of any fungus touched, particles may remain on the fingers and hands and be accidentally ingested later. Unless you have a considerable amount of experience in identifying Galerina, don’t touch them.

Conclusion

The deadly Galerina mushroom is one of the most commonly mistaken mushrooms in the world. Due to its resemblance to hallucinogenic mushrooms, it has grown a reputation as one of the most dangerous mushrooms in the world.

Containing alpha-Amanitin and other amatoxins, if ingested, can cause kidney failure, liver failure, and even death. Because the symptoms appear as other illnesses, it may not be diagnosed in time to save the person who ingested it.

For these reasons, the deadly Aalerina has earned its name, and it’s best to be avoided at all costs. Unless you’re an expert, never eat any wild mushroom unless you are 100% sure it isn’t toxic. The deadly Galerina has fooled many before; don’t let it fool you.

Eve Simmons