Destroying Angel

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on December 16, 2022

When hiking or camping in the forest, you will frequently encounter different wild vegetation types. One type you definitely don't want to encounter is the destroying angel mushroom. It is one of many fungus types that help nourish forest trees through connections with their roots. The netlike fibers increase the tree roots' ability to absorb water and nutrients. But while the destroying angel gives life to trees, it has the potential to bring death to humans — hence its name. But by learning destroying angel mushroom information, you can keep yourself safe. 

Destroying Angel Mushroom Facts

The destroying angel, Amanita bisporigera, is an all-white fungus. It has a ring of membrane on its stalk and a huge sack-like cup at the base of the stalk. This meadow mushroom has gills that are pink and can turn brown. Others in this plant family, Amanitaceae, look similar. Amanita virosa was considered a look-alike in the past, but testing the plant DNA has shown that it isn't found in the U.S.

The destroying angel grows above the ground in grass and mixed woods near trees from June through November. It has a cap that is flat to curved, with a slightly mounded swelling of the cap over the stem. It can be shiny to dull white. Its texture is smooth, but when wet, it can be tacky. Its gills are spaced closely, with little room between gill blades. The gills are somewhat broad, free of the stem, or only slightly attached. The universal veil is white. The spore print is white. When magnified, the spores are smooth and rounded.

You will find occasional stories in the news of immigrants poisoned by mushrooms. Sometimes those unfamiliar with the fungus mistake this poisonous mushroom for similar-looking but edible ones that they know. Destroying angel is often the trouble. The best way to avoid the toxins from A. bisporigera is to learn to identify the species reliably in all its variations. Don't just go by color or shape. Look for feature combinations like the skirt-like ring, white spore print, and sac-like cup at the stalk's bottom. Being afraid of coming across a destroying angel should not keep you from hunting mushrooms. Caution, knowledge, and experience can help you to identify and avoid it.

Types of Destroying Angels

Local destroying angels can be found with dozens of like-looking species, depending on where you live in the world. In northeastern America, most of the white Amanitas are Amanita bisporiger. It is the destroying angel of the east. In western America, you will find the Amanita ocreata and A. smithiana. European species of destroying angels include Amanita virosa and Amanita verna. There are white amanitas in other places throughout the world. These amanitas are also toxic. But the many members of Amanita found in the U.S. and Northern America are equally poisonous.

Destroying Angel Mushroom Habitat

The Amanita death angel is poisonous, and its species are native to much of the world. This mushroom is more popularly known as the destroying angel. It is found in oak hardwood conifer forests and other natural areas. The destroying angel is common. It grows above ground in mixed woods and near trees in the grass. The destroying angel is very picturesque and is common in the woods of Missouri. Because it is poisonous, observe but don't touch it. 

The destroying angel is considered mycorrhizal. This means it usually exists in a network of mycelium attached to tree roots. The relationship is symbiotic. Often trees do not fare well without fungal partners. When ready to produce, the mushroom develops, grows, and the spores made in the gills are released to start new mycelia in other places. Mushroom mycelium can remain active for decades.

Destroying Angel Symptoms

The destroying angel is deadly and deserves its name. The symptoms of the poison many times do not show up until 6-24 hours later after ingestion. Symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. Eventually, liver and kidney function becomes disrupted, and this can lead to death. Wildlife, livestock, and pets can also become victims of the toxins. A. virosa is a more abundant species than A. bisporigera but is equally poisonous. Characteristics to help with identification include the volva and annulus.

When eaten, there is still a lag time after the onset of the initial symptoms. During this time gap, the victim may falsely feel relieved, thinking incorrectly that the sickness has passed, when instead they're continuing to become more ill.

The process by which the toxins of the fungus work is by binding to and deactivating an enzyme called RNA polymerase II. It is needed for the synthesis of proteins. The toxin binds in this enzyme and prevents it from processing the DNA strand needed to generate messenger RNA.  

This step is crucial to kidney and liver functions. These vital organs will be attacked the most by the destroying angel's toxins. But, all tissues in the living body will be affected, even the G.I. system and the brain. A fatal dose of the toxins can be as little as 0.1 mg/kg body weight, which is only around 50 grams of mushrooms. About 60% of people who consume them die, with toxins of the destroying angel accounting for about 95% of deaths by mushrooms throughout the world. 

Despite causing so many deaths, this fungus has no known antidote. Symptoms began several hours after eating, with diarrhea, severe vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Then a false full recovery will seemingly occur, but the ending will be liver and kidney failure. The toxin can pass through the kidneys to be recirculated, leading to more damage.

Show Sources

Cornell University: "The destroying angel."
N.C. Cooperative Extension: "Amanita virosa."
Wild Food U.K.: "Destroying Angel."

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