Death cap mushrooms have a reputation for killing people and animals–but is that the only thing they do? How do death caps affect the environment, and do they provide any benefits to the ecosystems they inhabit? Read on to learn more about these highly toxic but fascinating mushrooms.
What You'll Learn Today
How Do Death Cap Mushrooms Interact With Other Organisms?
Death cap mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with trees.
Death caps seem to prefer deciduous hardwoods such as oaks, beeches, and hornbeams, though they can also be found growing near some varieties of pine and spruce. According to the University of Colorado Boulder, they are continuously evolving to develop relationships with a wider variety of tree species.
The mushroom’s relationship with trees is known as a mycorrhizal relationship. The tree produces substances that feed the mushrooms, and in return, the mushrooms provide water and nutrients that nourish the tree.
Death caps don’t grow from trees directly, but rather from the ground underneath the trees. Like other types of mushroom, they aid in the decomposition of decaying plant matter and add a level of nutrition to the soil.
Despite being generally beneficial to the plant life and soil conditions of a particular area, death caps are an invasive mushroom species. There is speculation that these mushrooms can take over an area, pushing out other mushroom species and leading to an increased risk of poisoning uneducated people or curious pets living in the area.
Interestingly, though death caps can be deadly to humans and pets, they actually provide a source of food for some insects and animals. Wildlife such as squirrels and rabbits have different metabolisms, and they are able to process and eliminate the toxins in death caps without sustaining any organ damage.
In fact, it’s quite common to find death caps with bug holes or chunks missing from the cap. Despite being highly toxic to humans, these mushrooms are not unpleasant to smell and taste, so many forms of wildlife consider them a tasty snack.
What if a Bird Eats a Death Cap?
If you have a pet bird, you should never intentionally feed it death caps. There is little known about the effects these mushrooms might have on birds, so it’s best not to take the risk.
In the wild, species generally know what they can and can’t eat; so if you were to see a wild bird eating a death cap, chances are, the bird wouldn’t be harmed. Again, though, there isn’t enough evidence one way or another that death caps are safe for birds to eat.
What’s more, it may depend on the species of bird, as some birds may be able to eat death caps while others would die from eating them.
Your best bet is simply to avoid feeding death caps to your pet bird, and to remove any death caps you find growing in your yard as quickly as possible.
What Happens if Your Dog Eats a Death Cap Mushroom?
Dogs can die if they eat death caps. The poisonous mushrooms can cause a dog’s internal organs to shut down, much in the same way they can cause fatal kidney and liver failure in humans.
Every type of animal has a different metabolism. Though you may see wild animals munching down on death caps and never experiencing any negative effects, the same amount of exposure (or less) could kill a dog.
What’s more, dogs are not like wild animals in that they won’t necessarily recognize what will and won’t hurt them. They are naturally curious and will chew on lots of different things without ever realizing their current chew toy of choice may be poisonous.
If you have a dog, then it’s extremely important to remove death caps from your yard as completely and permanently as possible. The invasive mushrooms can be hard to get rid of, so this may take some time.
If you know there are death caps in your area or if you’ve recently removed some from your yard, it may be a good idea to inspect the yard daily before letting your dog out to play. Remove any death caps you find and, if possible, closely supervise your dog while he’s outside so you can act quickly if he starts chewing on anything suspicious-looking.
Also, watch your dog closely while taking him on walks, particularly if you’ve seen death caps growing near your local roadsides and sidewalks.
If your dog chews or ingests any suspicious looking mushroom, get him to the vet immediately. The sooner you act, the better your dog’s chances of surviving the accidental poisoning.
For more information about protecting your dog from death cap mushrooms, check out the following video.
Death cap mushrooms can have both positive and negative effects on their local environment. In many places, especially areas with lots of young children and pets, the risks of letting death caps grow can far outweigh any ecological benefits they may have.
Death caps do provide some benefits for trees and wildlife in the area. That said, they are also quite invasive and can lead to an increased risk of mushroom poisoning in any area where they grow.