A carnivorous plant found only in the deepest of caves around the world, fungus lures draw in prey by imitating human speech.
Category: Plant/ Caves
Fungus lures are rarely, if ever, depicted in any historic tales beyond speculation. Tales of people going searching in the mountains or cave systems and never returning are often blamed on more exciting creatures and villains.
Fungus lures are bio-luminescent fungi that usually have the appearance of cave moss or occasionally small mushrooms. They generally glow blue or green, and are often home to other small cave creatures, creating pockets of life in the darkest of caverns. The visible portions of the fungus will only cover a small part of the ground, while its roots and feelers may extend for great distances and even cover an entire cave system.
It will shrivel and die if exposed to any form of light for very long, even artificial lighting, so can only be studied in darkness. Therefore, there is limited information on its’ appearance beyond its glow. The lures’ smell has been described as ‘fresh’ by those that have encountered it, as though one was standing near an opening in the caves and was about to be back in the open air. The lure apparently tastes of nothing in particular, and is not poisonous but not overly nutritious to most species.
The lure is entirely cannibalistic, growing on and then feeding from corpses of anything that has died in the caves in which it lives. In many cases, the fungus is merely opportunistic; there are plenty of other species living in the dark, and all things must eventually die. The fungus lure spores can live many years as dried out dust on cavern walls waiting for the right circumstances to let them grow.
But the lure lives in very isolated caverns, the better to avoid the light of the sun and of creatures that create their own light. Its’ habitat and feeding patterns being so at odds, the fungus lure has developed a method of aiding it in feeding. Besides the scent, which draws lost travelers towards it instead of leading them out of the caves, the lure has a more direct ability, that of apparently calling out in a human voice.
This is done by a variety of vibrations through the cave walls, using its own extensive root system to create a semblance of an echoing voice. No matter how close one gets to the fungus itself, the voices it produces always sound distant and like an echo, to lure anyone listening further into the caverns. Some reports indicate it shouts for help, others that it apparently calls the listeners name, like a search party. A few reports indicate the voices sound familiar, and at last one case mentioned that they thought they heard barking, when they were searching for their lost dog. It is unlikely all of these cases are true, as the fungus does not appear to be a species capable of thought, and in any case has no way to hear a name or word and repeat it. The variation in what people hear is generally assumed to be wishful thinking or hearing what one expects to hear rather than personalized lures.
Once a potential victim has been drawn in deep enough, the fungus changes tactics, exuding a chemical that induces drowsiness and exhaustion. It works slowly, but unless the victim manages to leave the fungus’ region of caves, they will eventually succumb to the fumes, and sleep. If they sleep, they will not wake up; the chemical is lethal. Once the victim is dead, the fungus will release its spores to latch onto the body and begin to grow. They will feed off the body until it is entirely consumed, bones and all, with the fungus growing over the body to spread feelers and creeper roots on the walls and ground of the cavern. When the body has been consumed entirely, it will once again begin luring new food to it.
There is evidence that the fumes the fungus gives off to kill its intended prey also aid in the decaying body providing more nutritious food for the fungus, as the bodies that the fungus killed itself appear to provide a home and food to the fungus for far longer than bodies that died in other ways. As an interesting note, magical creatures that also live in caves do not appear to make good food for the fungus, and appear to be at least partially immune to it. Kobolds are not only immune, but often eat the fungus as a delicacy, and some communities farm it by feeding it meat and carcasses from the surface. The belief is that the fungus needs the nutrients available from the surface but cannot itself tolerate the sun, so takes them from its victims, thus it prefers other species that live in the sunlight.
The fungus is most dangerous when traveling alone or without a light. Always carry a light when exploring, even if you are lucky enough to have cave-dweller night vision, and whenever possible have a partner or group. The fungus begins by making its’ prey confused, so keeping a level head, a map and a light on you is the most important factor.
If you find the fungus, which can be recognized by its’ glow, turn around and go back the way you came. If the fungus is visible enough to be glowing, you are in the center of its extensive root system and are being poisoned by the toxin it exudes. If you are fast enough, you may escape without long term effects, but you will likely feel ill and nauseous for some time, especially when exposed to sunshine.
Finally, pay attention to what you can smell. Fresh air is usually the sign of being close to escaping a cave, but if you should be nowhere near an opening, or it seems too good to be true, be aware that you may be being led further into the dark.