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Why Efts Worship Mushrooms

Further evidence that the world of the forest revolves around #fungi. If you’ve hiked with me, you’ve heard me rhapsodize about how integral fungi are to the forest system. Case in point: I’ve recently encountered several red efts hanging around mushrooms. Unlike box turtles (herpeto-kin of efts), efts don’t eat mushrooms. These bright young newts are carnivorous. They are hunters -- tiny dinos of the duff. Efts are drawn to mushrooms because lots of little critters are drawn to mushrooms. They prey on the flies, beetles, and slugs that are found feasting on fungi. The attraction that mushrooms hold for efts has been documented in the literature. Fifty years ago a team of biologists in Massachusetts studied the movement of efts through the forest, and they observed that efts “were often found clustered around decaying mushrooms. As many as seven efts were observed near one mushroom feeding on adult and larval dipterans [flies].”

Red Eft with Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms
Red Eft with Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms

Fungi translate tough, indigestible plant carbohydrates into soft (and mushy!) proteins and carbs that are readily consumed by many different organisms (even other fungi, known as hypomyces). A mushroom’s raison d’etre is to disperse spores into the world. They do this in a myriad of ways, but some fungi make soft and nutritious mushrooms that attract critters who, like pollinators visiting flowers, help the fungus spread its spores. Like flowers, mushrooms use an array of features to attract invertebrates. Some are brightly colored and others smell rich or like rotting flesh. A few, like the Jack-O-Lanterns featured in the photo above, glow in the dark -- presumably to attract insects at night. Consequently, many mushrooms are covered in tiny flies and beetles, while simultaneously being devoured by a slug or snail.

To an eft, a mushroom must be one of the most beautiful objects in the world. Efts worship at their feet, undoubtedly murmuring gratitude to the fungi gods as they feast on little critters drawn to the feast.

Red Eft and Red Russulas
Red Eft with Red Russulas
Red Eft with rotting Russula

Red Eft and Coral Mushroom
Photo by Julia Wharton

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