Deadly Asian fungus, poisonous to touch, found in Far North Queensland rainforest





Posted

October 03, 2019 15:03:17

The world’s second-deadliest fungus has been discovered in suburban Cairns, Far North Queensland ā€” but how it got there has scientists baffled.

Key points:

  • The bright red poison fire coral species is the only known fungus that is poisonous to touch
  • Ingesting it can prove fatal, and there are several recorded deaths in Japan and Korea
  • The discovery was made in Far North Queensland by self-proclaimed fungi fanatic and photographer Ray Palmer

Poison fire coral originates from Japan and Korea but the Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH) has confirmed its detection in a rainforest in the Redlynch Valley in Cairns.

ATH mycologist Dr Matt Barrett said scientists thought it might be a natural occurrence.

“But we don’t really have a very good understanding at all of the fungi in northern Australia,” Dr Barrett said.

“The distribution is all the way through South-East Asia as far as we can track it, but the records are very scattered.”

‘Horrifying array of symptoms’

The bright red species is the only known fungus that is poisonous to touch ā€” it produces at least eight toxic compounds that can be absorbed through the skin.

Ingesting it can prove fatal, and there are several recorded deaths in Japan and Korea where people have brewed and drunk a tea with poison fire coral, having confused it for the edible Ganoderma or Cordyceps, which are used in traditional medicines.

Dr Barrett has warned if eaten, the fungus caused a “horrifying array of symptoms”.

“Initially stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and numbness, followed over hours or days by delamination of skin on face, hands and feet, and shrinking of the brain,” Dr Barrett said.

If left untreated, death could occur from multiple organ failure or brain nerve dysfunction.

‘Fungi fanatic’ photographer make rare find

The discovery was made in Far North Queensland by self-proclaimed fungi fanatic Ray Palmer, who has been photographing fungus species for the past 11 years.

Mr Palmer said he immediately recognised the species as poison fire coral but had some initial doubts about his discovery.

“I thought ‘no, this can’t be it because this is in Australia’ ā€” it’s not known to be in Australia,” Mr Palmer said.

He carefully collected some samples, which he took to James Cook University in Cairns where the significance of his find was confirmed.

But Mr Palmer said this was not his first find.

“I’ve found a lot of other species which shouldn’t be in Australia,” he said.

“I love finding the weird and the wonderful as well as the beautiful and Cairns is the ideal place for it.”

Topics:

botanical-science,

science-and-technology,

horticulture,

rain-forests-and-forest,

environment,

academic-research,

research-organisations,

cairns-4870,

brisbane-4000,

qld,

redlynch-4870,

australia



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