On August 14 2019, the Facebook page “Freaked” shared the following post of the “most chilling mushrooms” in the world, a post that became popular ahead of Halloween that year:
Above four purported examples of mushrooms (and another 26 in an album) a caption said:
The most chilling mushrooms in the world .. The charms of the Fungi Kingdom 🍄
A single image to the left showed something that looked like a cross between a mushroom and a sandworm. That fungus is real. It is called Clathrus archeri — also known as “Devil’s fingers” or “octopus stinkhorn.” The image in this meme appeared at the top of Reddit’s r/WTF in June 2018:
An Inverse article published subsequently about the image quoted mycologist Andrew N. Miller, Ph.D. of the Illinois Natural History Survey about the viral photograph. Miller explained that its attributes helped flies find and spread its spores:
“Some people like flowers. Some like fungi,” [Miller] tells Inverse. C. archeri, known also as the “octopus stinkhorn,” is no rose, but its bright red arms, which burst through its white “egg” with an alarming pop, have a certain grotesque beauty to them. Even the black slime on its tentacles, home to all of its spores, has the same shimmering slickness as an oil spill. Its eye-watering odor, likened to the sharp smell of rotting meat, is a harder sell, but Miller says even its nostril-singeing stench plays an important evolutionary purpose … “What it does is attract insects, especially flies,” he says. “Flies come to the top of the stinkhorn and they eat that mucus. They’re basically not only eating spores — they’re getting spores all over their wings and feet, then the fly flies off and disperses the spores for the fungus.”
At the top left of the four images was Hydnellum peckii, also called bleeding Hydnellum, the red-juice tooth, the bleeding tooth fungus, and the Devil’s tooth. In October 2015, National Geographic reported:
Spotted in Europe and North America’s Pacific Northwest, the bleeding tooth fungus mainly resides among moss and pine needle litter in coniferous forests … Despite its horrific appearance, the mushroom isn’t poisonous. We still wouldn’t recommend eating it — the taste has been described as very bitter pepper.
A third image on the middle left showed Auricularia auricula-judae, an ear-like fungus with a jelly texture. That fungi was sometimes called Judas’s ear “because ‘it was believed that when Judas hanged himself on an elder tree, these ear-shaped excrescenses were condemned to appear on elders thereafter.'”
Karma farming accounts rarely append useful information to their posts, but this one is legitimate. Inky cap mushroom is formally called Coprinopsis atramentaria. It is usually edible, but can be poisonous when combined with alcohol — leading to another name, “Tippler’s Bane.”
Images seen in the Facebook post appeared on Twitter in August 2019, and in an October 2017 BuzzFeed post titled “17 Terrifying Plants And Fungi That Look Incredibly Gory.” That post appeared to be entirely reliant on a since-deleted Twitter thread; a BuzzFeed employee requested permission to embed it in its entirety:
A version of the post is archived, but without the original images.
All four of the “most chilling mushrooms in the world” are real and accurately described, and most of the longer list appeared to have been taken from @Cat_Whitney’s October 2017 Twitter thread. Mushrooms in the image set were often posted to Reddit and Imgur too, as examples of “creepy plants” or “gory nature.”