A rare and spooky looking fungus called the Devil’s Fingers (Clathrus archeri) was discovered on Halloween at a Nature reserve near Bristol.

The Devil’s Fingers is a saprotrophic fungus (soil-forming mushroom) native to Australia and New Zealand [1]. This organism lives off decaying matter and is part of a family of death reeking funguses known as stinkhorns.

The Devil’s Fingers was first recorded in Europe in France, 1914. Presumably, this species was transported to Europe with Australian wool or, alternatively, with military supplies at the beginning of the First World War [2]. Its first recorded presence in Britain was in Cornwall, 1946.

This was a surprising identification by an Avon Wildlife Trust conservation team on October 31st as there have only been two known records in this region, both from 1999.

Also known as Octopus Fungus, this fungal species sprouts red tentacle-like arms from a partly buried white gelatinous ‘egg’. These arms stand vertically and are initially joined at the tip before unfolding backwards into a star shape. 5-7 (sometimes up to 12) arms fully emerge within a day or two, eventually reaching a length of 4-8cm [3].

The inner face of the arms are slicked with putrid black gloop (or gleba) which emits a strong nose-singeing stench reminiscent of rotting flesh. This aromatic slime is fancied by many insects, especially flies.

The slime is riddled with spores and when insects visit the ‘fingers’ to feed, spores stick to their bodies, legs and wings. The spores are then spread by the visiting insects, helping the fungus to disperse far and wide.

Slowly expanding its distribution, you may be lucky enough to see this creature of nightmares! The Devil’s Finger is usually found under leaf litter, trees and shrubs – so beware! Don’t be too spooked though, this species is quite harmless and non-toxic – edible in fact if you are feeling adventurous…

If you find a peculiar looking or smelling fungi, send it our way to chXout where we carry out DNA Barcoding for fungi, plant and animal species identification. Purchase our DNA barcoding kits here today and satisfy your curiosity!

[1] https://dpo.org/10.2478/frp-2018-0028

[2] Simberloff, D., & Rejmánek, M. (Eds.). (2011). Encyclopedia of biological invasions (No. 3). Univ of California Press.

[3] https://doi.org/10.1080/00275514.1982.12021535