Are more animal species edible than plants?

While grocery shopping I was thinking that we restrict ourselves in regard to which animals we eat. I surely don't want to eat spiders and ants, for example, but I know that this is just because of my upbringing. But a lot of plants are actually inedible. So, is my idea correct that we can eat far more animal species than plant species? And if so, why? The reasons why certain plants are inedible seem to me also as rather diverse, like most plants developed their own special molecule(s) to avoid being eaten by us. :) I would be interested in some more educated opinion on this thought than mine. Thx in advance.

It is estimated by some that on earth there are

  • 7.77 million species (of which 953,434 have been described and cataloged) of animals
  • 298,000 species (of which 215,644 have been described and cataloged) of plants
  • 611,000 species (of which 43,271 have been described and cataloged) of fungi
  • 36,400 species (of which 8,118 have been described and cataloged) of protozoa.

with 6.5 million species found on land and 2.2 million (about 25 percent of the total) dwelling in the ocean depths.[1][2]

Despite the existence of toxic plants and animals, from the numbers alone it is clear that there are more animal species we can eat than plant species.

This does not take into account population or individual sizes, just species.

[1] How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?
[2] How many species on Earth? About 8.7 million, new estimate says

Knowledge, use and management of native wild edible plants from a seasonal dry forest (NE, Brazil)

Despite being an ancient practice that satisfies basic human needs, the use of wild edible plants tends to be forgotten along with associated knowledge in rural communities. The objective of this work is to analyze existing relationships between knowledge, use, and management of native wild edible plants and socioeconomic factors such as age, gender, family income, individual income, past occupation and current occupation.


The field work took place between 2009 and 2010 in the community of Carão, Altinho municipality, in the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 39 members of the community regarding knowledge, use and management of 14 native wild edible plants from the Caatinga region, corresponding to 12 vegetable species. In parallel, we documented the socioeconomic aspects of the interviewed population (age, gender, family income, individual income, past occupation and current occupation).


Knowledge about edible plants was related to age but not to current occupation or use. Current use was not associated with age, gender or occupation. The association between age and past use may indicate abandonment of these resources.


Because conservation of the species is not endangered by their use but by deforestation of the ecosystems in which these plants grow, we suggest that the promotion and consumption of the plants by community members is convenient and thereby stimulates the appropriation and consequent protection of the ecosystem. To promote consumption of these plants, it is important to begin by teaching people about plant species that can be used for their alimentation, disproving existing myths about plant use, and encouraging diversification of use by motivating the invention of new preparation methods. An example of how this can be achieved is through events like the “Preserves Festival”.

A Story with a Moral, and Disclaimers

Dr. Harvey Ballard became a student of plant taxonomy early in his teenage years because of mistaken plant identification. He and a 14-year old buddy had been avidly reading Euell Gibbons books on foraging for edible wild plants and were eager to try cattail rhizomes. They bicycled to a small sedge meadow bordering a nearby lake and pulled up several stalks to get at the rhizomes, then wielded their official Boy Scout knives to prepare the strips of reputedly crunchy goodness right at the lake edge. They didn’t encounter the outer "peel" they should have but waved that observation away as literary exaggeration by edible wild plant experts. After washing the rhizome pieces in the lake, they popped bunches of them into their mouths and swallowed them greedily. For the next hour they vomited their guts out in bewilderment, and for the rest of the day and part of another they savored the flavor burning pepper and old boat motor oil. Later, Ballard discovered they had sampled wild iris (Iris virginica), which is mildly toxic and definitely not very scrumptious, instead of cattails. They both have green sword-shaped leaves and grow in swampy or marshy places. Despite strenuous encouragement from his parents to go into medicine or accounting and spare his life, Ballard decided to learn how to identify plants with a higher degree of accuracy by studying taxonomy in a more rigorous fashion. Eventually he enjoyed many (properly identified) edible wild plant products without stomach distress or the lingering taste of peppery motor oil.

These resources are not intended to substitute for adequate plant taxonomy training beforehand or advisorship by a professional or "functionally" professional taxonomist, to enable you to identify a plant species with certainty. Each plant you gather must be identified with absolute certainty to species (or to genus where similar species are used in the same manner). Guessing the identity of a plant prior to preparation for food may be AT LEAST discomforting later (if the product is only revolting in taste) and AT WORST may be seriously damaging or even FATAL to you. Perhaps most people growing up in our part of the world are able to identify dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), pines (Pinus spp.), oaks (Quercus spp.), roses (Rosa spp.), apples (Malus or Pyrus spp.) and maples (Acer spp.), and can therefore immediately make a start on gathering and fixing edible wild plants. But it’s worth noting that distinguishing species or species groups even in the oaks is useful knowledge: acorns in the white oak group are generally sweet and do not need leaching to remove tannins before use, whereas acorns in the red/black oak group are bitter and will require leaching first.

Many folks may believe they can positively identify wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), but can they positively distinguish it from several "look-alikes" such as the escaped parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) that grows in dry upland fields but whose foliage is irritating to some, causing dermatitis akin to poison ivy, or from poison hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that grows in swamps and other wet sites and whose foliage or rootstock are deadly? A mistake in the first case might only be uncomfortable a mistake in the second case is irreparable.

In addition, the seasonal schedule and listing of edible wild plants for southeastern Ohio is based on published scientific literature concerning the distribution and habitats of these plant species, literature on preparation of edible plants published by preeminent experts on edible plants, and in many cases on direct personal experience with these species and preparations and consumption of products from them. Different products from some plants will have various degrees of palatability to a particular person, although we have only included plant species and products that most or all foraging naturalist (and our own personal experience) have shown are truly palatable or tasty to at least some folks. If one recipe or a particular part of a plant doesn’t grab you, try a different recipe or a different part of the plant before you give up on it completely. Especially for fruits and nuts, a myriad of recipes for pastries and breads and pies abound a search in the public library or your cookbooks will reveal many recipes that could be successfully adapted for a particular edible wild plant product.

Why are there so many more species of animals than plants?

According to Wikipedia there are (an estimated) 7 million species of living animals, yet only about 320 000 species of plants. How come there is such a great difference?

Animals are able to and have had to diversify a lot more than plants. I’m going to suggest that animals face more heavy selection pressure - such as predation and competition. Plants feel the same pressure, but if a plant is nibbled at, it is often able to regrow from the roots (depending on the species), and if it is faced with competition it can further its root system or just release its seeds - you get my point. If an animal is faced with predation or competition it must adapt immediately, and natural selection will drive evolution to favour the best adaptation. Thus leading to diversity in millions of different niches.

Another thing that immediately popped into my mind, but I’m not too sure on, is that the kingdom Animalia is a bit more open about what it lets in - as in its definition is looser. I’m mainly saying this because plants are defined as being able to photosynthesise, which cuts out a lot of things. For example, fungi. There are structural differences between fungi and plants but their cell structure is similar save a few changes. The main difference is the lack of chlorophyll in fungi which means no photosynthesis. As a result they’re shoved into their own kingdom. There are approx 5.1 million discovered fungi so if those few differences with plants changed( or the plant definition broadened), the plant kingdom would be much larger.

Sorry for rambling, thought it was an interesting question! Not 100% sure with my suggestion but it was fun to think about.

Why Is This So Important?

Each time a species goes extinct, the world around us unravels a bit. The consequences are profound, not just in those places and for those species but for all of us. These are tangible consequential losses, such as crop pollination and water purification, but also spiritual and cultural ones.

Although often obscured by the noise and rush of modern life, people retain deep emotional connections to the wild world. Wildlife and plants have inspired our histories, mythologies, languages and how we view the world. The presence of wildlife brings joy and enriches us all — and each extinction makes our home a lonelier and colder place for us and future generations.

The current extinction crisis is entirely of our own making. More than a century of habitat destruction, pollution, the spread of invasive species, overharvest from the wild, climate change, population growth and other human activities have pushed nature to the brink. Addressing the extinction crisis will require leadership — especially from the United States — alongside bold, courageous, far-reaching initiatives that attack this emergency at its root.

Among the most critical steps is the 30x30 campaign, which will protect wildlife places and wildlife habitat, including oceans, rivers, forests, deserts and swamps.

Specifically President Biden must support a plan that …

  • Declares the global extinction crisis to be a national emergency and commits $100 billion to saving the diversity of life on Earth.
  • Creates 175 parks, refuges and monuments to build toward protecting 30% of lands and waters by 2030 and half by 2050, a campaign known as 30x30.
  • Immediately provides $10 billion to save corals around the world, $10 billion to save neotropical birds in the western hemisphere, and $10 billion to combat the dangerous international wildlife trade.
  • Restores the full power of the Endangered Species Act and quickly moves to protect all species that are endangered but not yet on the endangered species list.
  • Makes dramatic cuts in pollution and plastics, increases efforts to stem wildlife exploitation and invasive species, and restores the U.S. leadership role in developing a global strategy for addressing wildlife extinctions.

Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans. In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming [3]. Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species' extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.

Species diversity ensures ecosystem resilience, giving ecological communities the scope they need to withstand stress. Thus while conservationists often justifiably focus their efforts on species-rich ecosystems like rainforests and coral reefs — which have a lot to lose — a comprehensive strategy for saving biodiversity must also include habitat types with fewer species, like grasslands, tundra, and polar seas — for which any loss could be irreversibly devastating. And while much concern over extinction focuses on globally lost species, most of biodiversity's benefits take place at a local level, and conserving local populations is the only way to ensure genetic diversity critical for a species' long-term survival.

In the past 500 years, we know of approximately 1,000 species that have gone extinct, from the woodland bison of West Virginia and Arizona's Merriam's elk to the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, passenger pigeon and Puerto Rico's Culebra parrot — but this doesn't account for thousands of species that disappeared before scientists had a chance to describe them [4]. Nobody really knows how many species are in danger of becoming extinct. Noted conservation scientist David Wilcove estimates that there are 14,000 to 35,000 endangered species in the United States, which is 7 to 18 percent of U.S. flora and fauna. The IUCN has assessed roughly 3 percent of described species and identified 16,928 species worldwide as being threatened with extinction, or roughly 38 percent of those assessed. In its latest four-year endangered species assessment, the IUCN reports that the world won't meet a goal of reversing the extinction trend toward species depletion by 2010 [5].

What's clear is that many thousands of species are at risk of disappearing forever in the coming decades.


Join us in our fight against extinction.

Edible stinkbug

Insects account for more than 80% of all living animals on earth and have existed for over 500 million years. Their consumption by humans dates back to pre-biblical times (Leviticus 11: 21–23). There are over 1 900 species of insects that are known to be edible by people of different cultures around the world, with 102 belonging to the order Hemiptera (bugs). Amongst the 102 is the relatively large, shield-shaped edible stinkbug (Encosternum delegorguei) native to southern and central Africa. This species is a sought after delicacy in rural villagers in Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is considered highly nutritious with proteins made up of essential amino acids (Teffo 2007).

How to recognise an edible stinkbug

Edible stinkbugs are light green-yellow, shield-shaped bugs with dorsally flattened bodies averaging 25 mm in length. Their heads are small and triangular with two brown shiny compound eyes and a pair of five segmented antennae. They possess forewings that are hardened at the base and membranous at the tips the hardened bases are separated by a triangular scutellum. Nymphs are red and wingless.

Getting around

They are strong fliers and will congregate in specific areas during the dry season. Villagers talk about swarms migrating to hilly areas and valleys. During the night and cold weather, they remain immobile in large clumps where they are vulnerable to being harvested.


Distribution of this species ranges from southern Africa northwards to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In southern Africa it is widely distributed within the tropical/subtropical woodlands and bushveld of South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia. South African populations have been recorded in the vicinity of Thohoyandou, Ga-Modjadji and Bushbuckridge.

During the dry season they congregate at higher altitudes than the wet season distribution and aggregate in sunny tree top locations in tropical bushveld and open woodlands. The wet season distribution is more widespread and linked to the availability of food plants (Dzerefos et al. 2015).

They are plant eaters that feed on Combretum imberbe, Combretum molle, Peltophorum africanum and Dodonaea viscosa.


Reproduction is sexual. Mating occurs between mid-October and late November (spring) (Dzerefos et al. 2009). Hard-shelled eggs are laid and glued on the grass stems and twigs of food plants ten days after copulation and hatching occurs 18 days thereafter. Hatchlings are small and wingless nymphs that resemble adults except for the colour. Nymphs undergo four successive stages known as instars where they moult changing colour and becoming more adult-like with wings.


Friends and foes

The most important enemies of the edible stinkbug are humans who extensively harvest them for food. They are also preyed on by monkeys, birds and ants. Recently parasitoid wasps that prevent hatching of eggs have been documented (Dzerefos et al. 2009) the wasps lay their eggs in the eggs of the stinkbugs, and the wasp larvae feed on the embryo of the stinkbug eggs. Other than predators, they are faced with habitat degradation influenced by land use and felling of food trees.

Smart strategies

Most food plants of the edible stinkbugs lose their leaves during the winter season. Consequently, these bugs are faced with reduced food sources. To combat these challenges, they secrete wax during winter to insulate their body, and undergo diapause during which they avoid feeding and only take in droplets of water. To fight against predators, the species employ a chemical defence mechanism.

It secretes chemicals that stain hands yellow or orange and has an unpleasant smell. The chemicals are also known to cause temporary blindness if they come into contact with the eyes. To increase their defences against predators, they aggregate in tree tops to combine their defence chemicals. The aggregation behaviour also helps in maintaining body temperature during winter and enhances mating opportunities during mating season.

Poorer world without me

Consumption of edible insects has been a major driver for plant conservation, with many plants conserved simply for the reason that they host a particular edible insect of significant value to consumers. Edible stinkbugs have been used to promote conservation of the Jiri forest of Zimbabwe. As a result of the human–forest–stinkbug relationship, the use of more than 10 indigenous plants species within this forest has been forbidden and deforestation has been avoided.

Most of the forbidden plants are those that these stinkbugs aggregate on. During the harvesting season of stinkbugs, a team of caretakers who ensure that ethical and sustainable harvesting is practiced in the Jiri Forest is employed by the Norumedzo villagers who are highly dependent on the forest. The awareness of cultural, social and religious significance of this species has played a great role in the conservation of this forest (Munyaradzi 2014).

People & I

Edible stinkbugs have been served as food in South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe for generations. In South Africa, they are a delicacy for the Venda people of Limpopo and for the Mapulana people of Mpumalanga. They are an important source of protein, vitamins and micro-elements. Their palatability depends on the successful removal of the bitter tasting and stinking defence chemicals. After they are harvested, the live stinkbugs are separated from the dead ones.

The heads of the dead ones are removed and the defence chemicals are squeezed out through the opening. The live ones are put in warm water and stirred. In distress, they secrete all their defence chemicals into the water and the water is discarded (this is repeated at least once). They are then boiled for several minutes before they are sun-dried. The dried ones can be fried with a little salt. Some people eat them dry as a snack. They also have increasing economic value for harvesters who sell them. I

n 2009 a cup of dried edible stinkbugs cost an average of R5.00, and then R10 in 2013 and this year (2015) a cup fetches an estimated R20.00 in Thohoyandou. Edible stinkbugs are also used to aid with digestion, act as appetizer and as a cure for hangovers.

Conservation status and what the future holds

This species has not been assessed according to the IUCN red list criteria and so its conservation status is unknown. In a global context, edible stinkbugs are widely distributed from southern Africa northwards to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but have only been documented as food in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. However, populations in South Africa not only face threats of habitat degradation, spread of invasive alien organisms, environmental pollution and pesticides, but could also succumb to over exploitation resulting from its increasing economic value.


Tessaratomidae is a family of true bugs consisting of about 56 genera recorded. The family is also referred to as giant shield bugs because of their relatively large bodies. They share a similar arrangement of piercing or sucking mouthparts known as the rostrum. E. delegorguei bear a striking resemblance in morphology to members of the family Pentatomidae such as Chinavia spp. and Nezara spp. They differ in that members of Pentatomidae have an enlarged triangular scutellum, which is extended to partially cover the wings.

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Tessaratomidae
Genus: Encosternum
Species: E. delegorguei (Spinola, 1850)

References and further reading

  • Dzerefos C.M. & Witkowski E.T.F. 2014. The potential of entomophagy and the use of the stinkbug, Encosternum delegorguei Spinola (Hem., Tessaratomidae) in sub-Saharan Africa. African Entomology 22(3): 461–472.
  • Dzerefos C.M., Witkowski E.T.F. & Toms R. 2009. Life-history traits of the edible stinkbug, Encosternum delegorguei (Hem., Tessaratomidae), a traditional food in southern Africa. Journal of Applied Entomology 133: 749–759.
  • Dzerefos C.M., Witkowski E.T.F. & Toms R. 2013. Comparison of the ethnoentomology of stinkbug use in southern Africa and sustainable management considerations. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 9: 20. (accessed 14 July 2014).
  • Dzerefos C.M., Witkowski E.T.F. & Toms R. 2014. Use of the stinkbug, Encosternum delegorguei (Hem., Tessaratomidae) for food and income in South Africa. Society and Natural Resources 27(8): 882–897.
  • Dzerefos, C. M., Erasmus, B.F.N., Witkowski, E.T.F. & Guo, D. 2015. Modelling the current and future dry-season distribution of the edible stinkbug Encosternum delegorguei in sub-Saharan Africa. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 156: 1–13. Doi: 10.1111/eea.12309
  • Dzerefos, C.M. & Witkowski E.T.F. 2015. Crunchtime: sub-Saharan stinkbugs, a dry season delicacy and cash cow for impoverished rural communities. Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food 7(4): 919–925. Doi: 10.1007/s12571-015-0479-0.
  • Makore, T.A., Garamumhango, P., Chirikure, T. & Chikambi, S.D. 2015. Determination of nutritional composition of Encosternum delegorguei caught in Nerumedzo community of Bikita, Zimbabwe. International Journal of Biology 7(4): 13.
  • Munyaradzi M. 2014. Forest insects, personhood and the environment: Harurwa (edible stinkbugs) and conservation in southeastern Zimbabwe (PhD thesis), University of Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
  • Teffo, L.S. 2006. Nutritional and medicinal value of the edible stinkbug, Encosternum delegorguei Spinola, consumed in Limpopo Province of South Africa and its host plant Dodonaea viscosa Jacq. var. angustifolia (PhD thesis), University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Teffo, L.S. 2007. Preliminary data on the nutritional composition of the edible stink-bug, Encosternum delegorguei Spinola, consumed in Limpopo province, South Africa. South African Journal of Science 103: 434–436.

Author: Vhutali Nelwamondo
SANBI – Zoology systematics
December 2015


The themes not developed in each community represent obvious opportunities for growth, but have done so for some time. The confluence of several events now makes the potential for cross-fertilization more evident. One is that general molecular biological techniques and genomics are increasingly permeating every discipline and scientific community. At the laboratory bench, plant and animal biologists are increasingly doing the same thing in the scientific literature as well, questions and paradigms are increasingly converging as a result. Another event is the realization that cross-taxon communities and programs may have real advantages, economies of scale, and greater scientific strength through diversity. This realization has led to corresponding reorganizations and redefinition of missions. For example, when the National Science Foundation reorganized its programs in the 1990s, first as “Functional and Physiological Ecology” and then as “Ecological and Evolutionary Physiology,” it combined both plant and animal biology in this program, departing from its previous practice of separating the two. Also in the 1990s, the American Society of Zoologists became the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. A final event making this symposium timely is that the increasing dominance of Arabidopsis as a model system in the plant physiology community is leading non-Arabidopsis plant physiologists to realize that they may have much in common intellectually with non-model organism animal physiologists.

This confluence (and acquaintances formed when plant and animal biologists began to serve on a common National Science Foundation panel) led representatives of both the plant and animal communities to ponder whether closer ties at the level of scientific societies would be beneficial. This process culminated in two events. First, officers and representatives of the largely-zoological Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology and the largely-botanical Physiological Ecology Section of the Ecological Society of America organizing a workshop, entitled “Towards Potential Synergies of Plant and Animal Ecophysiology,” at the Ecological Society's annual meeting in August 2000. Second, these same two groups co-sponsored the symposium whose record is published here, entitled “Plant and animal physiological ecology, comparative physiology/biochemistry, and evolutionary physiology: opportunities for synergy” at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in January 2001. A grant from the Ecological and Evolutionary Physiology Program of the National Science Foundation supported both events.

The intent of the present symposium was two-fold. First, it was an experiment in social engineering. Just as the formation of a joint plant-animal Program at NSF led to interactions among plant and animal panelists that would not otherwise have occurred, this symposium was intended as a substrate for unprecedented interactions among plant and animal biologist symposiasts, members of the audience, and attendees of the SICB meeting. The outcome of this experiment is presently unknown. A second intent was, through the symposium presentations and the corresponding manuscripts published here, to exemplify common interests, paradigms, approaches, findings, principles, and opportunities for future scientific synergy between plant and animal scientists investigating organism-environment interactions. Of the many possible topics on which plant and animal investigators can provide complementary insights, the following papers touch on four.

Are more animal species edible than plants? - Biology

Locally varied food production systems are under threat, including local knowledge and the culture and skills of women and men farmers. With this decline, agrobiodiversity is disappearing the scale of the loss is extensive. With the disappearance of harvested species, varieties and breeds, a wide range of unharvested species also disappear.


* Since the 1900s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.

* 30 percent of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction six breeds are lost each month.

* Today, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.

* Of the 4 percent of the 250 000 to 300 000 known edible plant species, only 150 to 200 are used by humans. Only three - rice, maize and wheat - contribute nearly 60 percent of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants.

* Animals provide some 30 percent of human requirements for food and agriculture and 12 percent of the world’s population live almost entirely on products from ruminants.

More than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost. In fisheries, all the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits, with many fish populations effectively becoming extinct. Loss of forest cover, coastal wetlands, other ‘wild’ uncultivated areas, and the destruction of the aquatic environment exacerbate the genetic erosion of agrobiodiversity.

Fallow fields and wildlands can support large numbers of species useful to farmers. In addition to supplying calories and protein, wild foods supply vitamins and other essential micro-nutrients. In general, poor households rely on access to wild foods more than the wealthier (see Table 1). However, in some areas, pressure on the land is so great that wild food supplies have been exhausted.

The term ‘wild-food’, though commonly used, is misleading because it implies the absence of human influence and management. Over time, people have indirectly shaped many plants. Some have been domesticated in home gardens and in the fields together with farmers’ cultivated food and cash crops. The term ‘wild-food’, therefore, is used to describe all plant resources that are harvested or collected for human consumption outside agricultural areas in forests, savannah and other bush land areas. Wild-foods are incorporated into the normal livelihood strategies of many rural people, pastoralists, shifting cultivators, continuous croppers or hunter-gatherers. Wild-food is usually considered as a dietary supplement to farmers’ daily food consumption, generally based on their crop harvest, domestic livestock products and food purchases on local markets. For instance, fruits and berries, from a wide range of wild growing plants, are typically referred to as ‘wild-food’. Moreover, wild fruits and berries add crucial vitamins to the normally vitamin deficient Ethiopian cereal diet, particularly for children.

Proportion of food from wild products for poor, medium and relatively wealthy households

New edible mushrooms among thousands of recently discovered fungi

New species of porcini, chanterelle and portobello mushrooms were among 2,000 new species of fungi discovered in 2017, which scientists say shows how little is known about the organisms.

More than £30bn of edible fungi are sold each year, according to the State of the World’s Fungi report published on Wednesday by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the UK. But the lifeforms are even more vital to plants – 90% rely on fungi to thrive – and many human medicines such as penicillin derive from fungi.

Other fungi, from mushrooms to moulds to yeasts, also kill many plants, and global trade is pushing diseases into new countries, such as ash dieback that has spread across the UK. However, just 144,000 species are known to science, from a total number estimated at about three million.

“Their ability to play both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde roles within their environments is unparalleled [but] historically they have remained in the shadows when compared with research on plants and animals,” said Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew. “We have only just started to uncover the secrets of this incredible and diverse group of organisms.”

New mushroom species were uncovered around the world. Three species of golden chanterelles were found in Canada – all edible – while other new chanterelles were found in the Central African Republic and South Korea. A new porcini mushroom – also confirmed as edible – was found in India. However, scientists have not always needed to range so far – Kew scientists found three new species of porcini in a packet of dried Chinese mushrooms bought in London in 2013.

Further new discoveries include two new species of the black musk truffle from Hungary and 33 new species of Agaricus from China, Thailand, Brazil, Spain and Italy. The Agaricus genus includes the commonly eaten button mushroom, also sold as portobello mushrooms when the caps are fully expanded or chestnut mushrooms when the caps are closed.

Among non-edible groups, there were 179 new fibrecap species from Australia, Europe and India. Fungi in this genus, called Inocybe, produce compounds such as the hallucinogen psilocybin and toxin muscarine. Other striking discoveries included a vivid orange, salt-tolerant mushroom from the Andes in Chile.

Bright orange Lichenomphalia altoandina from Chile was among the non-edible new species. Photograph: Royal Botanic Gardens

New moulds were found in an extraordinary range of environments, with 37 new species of the ubiquitous Aspergillus mould discovered in soils, plant tissues, a cave wall biofilm, a baby-carrier backpack, an oil painting, a fingernail and house dust.

The Kew report involved more than 100 scientists from 18 countries and reported on fungi that can help plants survive droughts and others that can break down woody plant residues into fuel. “As the foundation of the world’s ecosystems, fungi potentially hold the answers for everything from food security and biofuels to desertification and medicinal advances,” said Willis.

But she also warned that more research was needed on dangerous fungi: “Throughout the world there is significant concern related to the spread of fungal pathogens that are devastating crops and wild plant communities, a threat which seems to be increasing with climate change.”


Surveys carried out among Baka people living south of the Dja Biosphere Reserve revealed 88 edible plants species including 14 putative but not identified wild yam species (genus Dioscorea). This genus was with six identified and 14 putative species the most species-rich genus in the study, emphasizing their nutritional and cultural importance for Baka. Compared to the Bamenda Highlands in western Cameroon, the Baka WEP diversity was more than double. Excluding the 14 unidentified wild yam species 17 WEP species have not been reported in any other ethnobotanical survey including on Baka [10]. The importance of the study area for WEP diversity is also highlighted by the fact that 18 out of the 30 “key” NTFP in Cameroon [48] were quoted by Baka. The increasing influence of market economies on the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers since sedentarization from the 1950s onwards is exemplified by the high proportion of starchy food in daily nutritional intake observed here and elsewhere [10]. Baka still harvest and use a wide variety of WEP, giving the opportunity to further document Baka’s knowledge of WEP especially as biological resources and indigenous knowledge are diminishing with high destruction and a growing disinterest among the younger generation [53]. Fostering this knowledge will be important for sustainable development and achieving food security.