Fungi Appear to Talk in a Language Similar to Humans

Fungi have been recorded having conversations, with a scientist finding they can communicate with a language similar to that of humans.

Over the last decade, researchers have found evidence that plants are able to communicate.

Research published in 2019 even suggested they "scream" when cut. Fungi are neither plant nor animal, instead belonging to their own kingdom. This includes yeasts, molds and mushrooms.

Andrew Adamatzky, from the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of the West of England, Bristol, said he started looking for language in fungi out of curiosity.

He had previously found slime mold exhibited apparent cognitive abilities via spikes of electrical activity, so wanted to see if fungi did the same.

A species of fungi with electrodes recording spikes in activity. Andy Adamtzky found fungi communicate with a language similar to humans. Andy Adamatzky

In his current position, Adamatzky creates prototype devices using biological, chemical and physical substrates.

If he wanted to make a fungi-based computing device, he would need to understand how information is transferred by them.

Another part of his job involves creating building structures from substrates colonized by fungus: "Some parts of the substrate include living mycelium which will be responsible for sensing environmental clues and making decisions about the environment," he told Newsweek. "This will be done via electrical activity."

In his latest study, Adamatzky collected four different species of fungi. These were ghost fungi, Enoki fungi, split gill fungi and caterpillar fungi. He prodded the specimens with electrodes and recorded changes in electrical activity.

His findings, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, showed big trains of electrical spikes comparable with neurons.

Adamatzky then compared these spikes with those seen in human language and found similarities. "I reconstructed [the] potential syntax of fungal language," he said.

Macrolepiota procera
Macrolepiota procera, the parasol mushroom. Andrew Adamatzky found fungi have vocabularies of around 50 words. Irina Petrova Adamatzky

The study showed how the spikes resemble vocabularies of around 50 words, with word length being similar to those of human language.

There were differences in terms of language complexity between species, with ghost fungi and split gill fungi having a larger lexicon.

Adamatzky said the fungi could be saying several things. They may be telling one another of their presence in the same way wolves howl, or they could be telling other parts of the mycelium—the root-like structure of a fungus—about the presence of attractants or repellants.

"There is also another option—they are saying nothing," he said.

"Propagating mycelium tips are electrically charged, and, therefore, when the charged tips pass in a pair of differential electrodes a spike in the potential difference is recorded."

Cordyceps militaris
Cordyceps militaris. This fungi, also known as caterpillar fungi, was one of the species used in Adamatzky's experiments. Irina Petrova Adamatzky

In the study, Adamatzky said there are several directions for research.

The language differences between the species could be examined, as well as the potential for a fungal grammar system. He said more fungi species will need to be examined to understand variation in language.

"Probably the most important direction of future research, would be to make a thorough and detailed classification of fungal words, derived from the train of spikes," he wrote.

"Right now, we classified the word based solely on a number of spikes in the corresponding trains. This is indeed quite a primitive classification akin to interpreting binary words only by sums of their bits and not exact configurations of 1s and 0s.

"That said we should not expect quick results: we are yet to decipher the language of cats and dogs despite living with them for centuries and research into electrical communication of fungi is in its pure infant stage."