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.
- Cap Color: The cap color, or fruit body color, ranges from a light yellow to a dark brown. Mostly it will be light brown.
- Cap Shape: The cap, or fruit body, is curved and shaped like a bell at most times. As the fungus ages, the cap will become flatter.
- Gill Color: It has yellow-brown or tan gills underneath the cap that do not run down the stem.
- Spore Print: The spore print (the powdery deposit that falls to the surface underneath the fungi) is light brown to rusty brown. The spore print is an important diagnostic characteristic in mushroom field guides.
- Stem Ring: There is a light ring that runs around the stem, but this tends to diminish with age.
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:
- Irritation of the Respiratory Tract: One of the first symptoms may be irritation of the throat or mouth. It’s described as a light burning or prickling sensation.
- Headache: A sharp headache may follow, including short periods of dizziness and confusion.
- Gastrointestinal Irritation: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can all occur in short intervals and affect metabolism.
- Shortness of Breath: May produce a feeling of tightness in the chest or an inability to breathe deeply or normally.
- Back Pain: Can also produce a sharp pain in the middle or small of the back.
- Insomnia: May cause an inability to sleep or rest as one would normally.
- Frequent Urination: Frequent urination is also an effect of amatoxin poisoning, as the body attempts to flush out the toxin.
- Severe Liver Dysfunction: The liver is the principal organ affected, as it is the first to come into contact with the toxins after entering the gastrointestinal tract. Liver cells are the first to be broken down by the toxin.
- Acute Liver and Kidney Damage: After the liver, the kidneys are the next organ to contact the amanita toxin, causing damage to both that can be permanent.
- Liver and Kidney Failure: The final effect of amatoxin poisoning is the failure of the kidneys and liver, resulting in death without a kidney or liver transplant.
Like radiation poisoning, amatoxin poisoning shows a biphasic pattern, meaning it occurs in two separate stages with a period of relative normalcy in between.
- Stage One: Acute symptoms lasting for 12-24 hours. This is when the majority of the effects listed above will occur.
- 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.
- 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:
- Activated Charcoal: If diagnosed early, you can use activated charcoal to empty the stomach and reduce the absorption of amatoxins. This may also prevent the reabsorption of amatoxins later as it cycles through the body.
- Silymarin: Both the European pharmaceutical specimens and the over-the-counter raw milk thistle extracts used in North America have been administered to slow the entry of amatoxin into the liver.
- Penicillin: A high dose of penicillin administered through an IV line competes with the liver absorption of amatoxins. Throughout its use during WW2, penicillin is often dubbed the “wonder drug” due to its unique healing properties.
- N-acetyl-cysteine: Used to treat potential liver injury and provide glutathione, an antioxidant shown to prevent the cellular damage caused by specific toxins.
- Liver/Kidney Transplant: Because amatoxins are devastating on the liver and kidney, organ transplants may be necessary for 60% of patients. You should consider a liver and kidney transplant early stages of ingesting deadly fungi.
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.
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.