The Poison Fire Coral, one of world’s deadliest fungi, has been found in Far North Queensland for the first time. It is a long way from its usual home in the mountains of Japan and Korea.
Dr Matt Barrett of James Cook University, confirmed the identity of the Poison Fire Coral fungus after local photographer Ray Palmer provided an image of a mystery fungus snapped in Redlynch in suburban Cairns.
The bright red Poison Fire Coral fruit bodies were found on tree roots and soil. Dr Barrett warned people to resist the urge to pick up the eye-catching fungus. “If found, the fungus should not be touched, and definitely not eaten. Of the hundred or so toxic mushrooms that are known to researchers, this is the only one in which the toxins can be absorbed through the skin,” said Dr Barrett, a mycologist from the JCU Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH) who specialises in the study of fungi.
“This record extends the distribution of the fungus considerably, and it may be even more widespread in tropical Australia,” said Dr Barrett.
Poison Fire Coral compounds can be absorbed through the skin
“Just touching the Fire Coral fungus can cause dermatitis (reddening or swelling of the skin). If eaten, it causes a horrifying array of symptoms: initially stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and numbness, followed over hours or days by delamination of skin on face, hands and feet, and shrinking of the brain, which, in turn, causes altered perception, motion difficulties and speech impediments,” explained Dr Barrett.
If left untreated, death can occur from multiple organ failure or brain nerve dysfunction.
Dr Barrett said the fungus had most likely naturally occurs in Cairns as there had been reported instances of it also growing in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, but had never been found before.