Have you ever looked at trees swaying in the wind and thought to yourself, “I wonder if they can communicate with each other?” Language in the insect realm can be complex, such as a bee’s dance; whereas plants use chemical signals to communicate. But next time, don’t look up into the trees. Rather, try looking down into the dirt where mushrooms talk amongst each other with sophistication in their electrical speech.

Probing a shroom to hear it talk

A computer scientist, Andrew Adamatzky decided to probe mycelium and fungi with electrodes to see if mushrooms send out any form of electrical communication. It’s been previously documented that fungi do interact with plant roots through these impulses.

Ghost, enoki, split gill, and caterpillar mushrooms were tested in the study. Behind a species of split gill, Cordyceps millitaris possessed the second most complex language of the four species analyzed for spiking patterns of activity. Mushrooms talk in electrical patterns that appear like trains of clustered impulses, similar to letters in a word.

Mycelium. Photo courtesy of Canva.

The structure of fungal sentences

An electrical impulse is like a letter, with a definition for each unique signature. And if the gap of time between a set of spike was zero, Adamatzky assumed the cluster would be part of the same word in a sentence. Cordyceps possessed an average of 4.7 impulses per cluster, similar to the average word length of 4.8 in the English lexicon.

Mushrooms use words as long as 10 impulses to talk to other fungi in their mycelium network. As for future research, three directions of importance were noted in the study. Firstly, is to understand the different dialects used by different mushrooms species. Grammatical nuances used by mushrooms as they talk are also important to understand. Accomplishing these two goals will be necessary for the final direction of future research.

Similar to how Karl von Frisch decoded the language of the bees, speech used by fungi will need to be classified and completely defined. A complete fungal lexicon will add to lectures by Paul Stamets that explore the complex network of mycelium that acts as the Earth’s natural internet.

Do you think our language has been unknowingly influenced by an electrical symbiosis between humans and fungi? And let us know in the comments if you gained new thoughts on the swaying trees.

Sources

  1. Adamatzky A. Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activityRoyal Society Open Science. 9(4):211926.

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