What do you think of when you think of fungus? Do you think of the mold growing in your shower or mushrooms? Both are types of fungi as fungi can range from unicellular (yeasts and molds) to multicellular organisms (mushrooms) that contain spore-producing fruit bodies for reproduction.
We don’t think much about these alien critters that are neither plants nor animals but something strange in between. They are fascinating life-forms that are critically important to the biosphere.
In fact, there are more fungal species than plant or animal species. They’re also more closely related to animals than plants. But what’s really amazing is how they affect our world in such dramatic ways even though we’re hardly aware of them.
From the mushrooms we put on our pizzas to the mildew that grows in our showers, fungi are everywhere. They are living organisms that are found all over the earth and can range in size from being microscopic to as large as many square miles. More than 100,000 species of fungi have been identified, but it is estimated that there are at least 1.5 million species on earth.
Although once thought to be a plant, scientists have since come to distinguish them as their own group of living organisms. Fungi are eukaryotic organisms that are classified in their own Kingdom, called Fungi.
The cell walls of fungi contain chitin, a polymer that is similar in structure to glucose from which it is derived. Unlike plants, fungi don’t have chlorophyll so are not able to make their own food. Fungi typically acquire their nutrients/food by absorption.
They release digestive enzymes into the environment that assist in this process. Fungi reproduce by spores while plants reproduce through seeds, fruit, or pollen. Fungi are very diverse and have even contributed to improvements in medicine. Let’s explore interesting facts about fungi.
1. The Razor-strop fungus was once used by barbers to polish razors. This common bracket fungus, when dried out, can be used to sharpen blades and was once used by watchmakers to polish moving components. It also has antibacterial properties.
A sample of this birch bracket was found in the burial site of a mummified man dating back 5,500 years. The remains, also known as the Otzi the Iceman, were found in the Austrian mountains.
2. Fungi can be used to control pests. Some species of fungi are able to suppress the growth of insects and nematodes that may cause harm to agricultural crops. Typically the fungi that can have such impacts are part of the group called hyphomycetes.
3. Fungi are vital to the environment. They play a key role in the cycle of nutrients in the environment. They are one of the main decomposers of dead organic matter.
Without them, the leaves, dead trees, and other organic matter that build up in the forests wouldn’t have their nutrients available for other plants to use. For example, nitrogen is a key component that is released when fungi decompose organic matter.
4. A gram of woodland soil can contain one million microscopic fungi. Fungi do not photosynthesize but acquire the nutrients essential for growth from organic material such as dead wood or leaf litter.
Fungi produce nutrient-absorbing threads called mycelium that extend through the soil like an intricate web. These fine threads secrete enzymes that break down complex molecules such as lignin found in wood.
These underground fungi networks are essential for woodland life, helping to recycle and replenish essential nutrient stores.
5. Fungi were not able to be studied fully until the invention of the microscope, in the 1500s. The first spores seen by a human were observed in 1588, by Giambattista Della Porta, an Italian scholar living in Naples during the Scientific Revolution.
6. The fastest living organism on the earth is fungi. Hat throwing fungi distempers and ejects their spores at a remarkable speed which is 100 to 200 times faster than the speed of sound. The spores have enough force to pull a 20 G object.
Human eyes are unable to detect the speed of fungi spores ejection with unaided eyes; scientists recorded the speed of fungal spores being ejected with an ultra high-speed camera and slow down the frame rate 10,000 times to be able to see them.