If that title sounds too good to be true, it’s not.
Over the weekend my friends Tradd & Olga invited me over for dinner (and after eating the wild mushroom dish that Olga served you can expect a post on morel hunting soon). Tradd is a Mycologist and together they run Mushroom Mountain out of Liberty, SC. You can buy excellent fungi supplies from them but I also recommend the written and video tutorials available for free on their website.
Tradd’s lab at Mushroom Mountain is stacked with various fungal specimens in petri dishes and cultures. Among these is a species that attacks and kills fire ants. By that I mean when the fungus is applied to an ant hive the workers spread it through the colony like a disease. It is 100% effective (all the ants, including the queen, die) within 14 – 21 days. Once dead, the ants become mummified and release spores which repel future ants from moving into the area.
Using mushrooms to kill pest insects doesn’t strictly fit into the definition of mycoremediation but it involves no dangerous chemicals and is a lasting, renewable remedy. Additionally, the mushrooms are genus and sometimes species specific, so they do not attack similar native or beneficial species in the same area. Other fungus species have been cultured that kill carpenter ants or termites. An inoculated house can repel termites for over a lifetime. This is good news for homeowners, and also for our threatened native ants and the seeds of spring ephemerals that they help spread.
It’s not good news if you are in the exterminator business. Major chemical companies are fighting patent holders like Paul Stamets from being able to market it to the public but with any luck it will be available soon. If you would like to hear Paul talk about this and other mycoremediation uses for mushrooms, you can watch his TED talk here. The entire thing is mind-blowing but skip to the 12:58 mark if you just want to hear about pesticide applications.
You can also watch a video of Tradd displaying a carpenter ant that has been killed and mummified by one of these mushroom species.
Note that for mycoremediation supplies you may want to email Tradd to ask if anything is available that isn’t mentioned in their store — though the fire ant mushroom isn’t being offered at this time. I’ll post about it if that changes anytime soon.
Look for multiple posts about mushroom hunting, eating, growing, and the goings-on at Mushroom Mountain in the near future.