Did You Know? Fascinating Fungi Facts

Here are some fascinating facts about fungi that I have gathered from a large variety of sources (websites, various published works, documentaries, lectures, etc). For additional information on any of these topics, I’d suggest heading to the Google machine!

  1. Fungi were the first eukaryotic organisms and are the largest group of eukaryotes

  2. Fungi are not plants (plantae) or animals (animalia) but their own kingdom (fungi)

  3. There are over 1.5 million species of fungi – that’s 6x more species than plants; only ~5% of these fungi are classified

  4. Fungi are more like animals than plants; like animals they take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide and also digest their food (although fungi digest outside their bodies!)

  5. The living body of the fungus is a “mycelium” made out of a web of tiny root-like filaments called “hyphae”; the branching hyphae can add over a half a mile of total length to a mycelium each day

  6. Unable to gain nutrition on their own, fungi eat through their hyphae - which release acidic enzymes to break down organic matter into easily absorbable nutrients; fungi essentially live in their food

  7. Fungi are nature’s recyclers

  8. All soils contain traces of fungi in them, from spores to mycelium

  9. 1/3 of all carbon in the soil is held by fungal mycelium

  10. There are approximately 70 miles of mycelium in one square inch of forest detritus

  11. Plants and trees depend on fungi for nutrients; 95% of all plants live in a mutualistic “mycorrhizal” relationship with fungi that live on and in their roots; 100% of all green plants have fungi living between their cells

  12. In mycorrhizal relationships, fungi extend the plant’s root system and supply water and nutrients in the soil in exchange for sugars from the plant

  13. In some cases, like with conifer trees, a plant needs its fungal symbiont in order to live

  14. According to the fossil record, at no time were plants terrestrial without fungi

  15. Only a small percent of fungi produce mushrooms

  16. A mushroom is simply condensed mycelium and is made up of 85-95% water

  17. Fungi have their own immune system and use antibiotics to fend off other microorganisms that compete with them for food; today we have a number of antibiotics derived from fungi – including Penicillin from the fungal species Penicillium

  18. Some fungi can break down toxic chemical substances like dioxins, pesticides, petroleum products/oil, and chemical warfare agents and use them as a food source

  19. Mushrooms can also break through asphalt and demineralize rocks

  20. There are fungi that live on rocks, in sand dunes, under water, inside radioactive nuclear reactors, parasitized upon insects, in space, and in human lungs

  21. There are over 70 species of bioluminescent fungi that produce light through a chemical reaction

  22. There is a honey mushroom (mycelium) in Oregon that is known as both the world’s largest and oldest living organism; it is estimated to be 2500 – 9000 years old and covers nearly four square miles

  23. Scientists now believe that the ocean floor is the largest fungal habitat on earth

  24. Some mushrooms drop their spores and let the wind carry them while others shoot their spores in the air as far as 8 feet

  25. Fungi are the fastest living organisms on earth in the sense that some can eject their spores 100-200 times faster than the speed of sound

  26. In the air, the spores of mushrooms create a surface for water to condense upon, thus triggering rain; a feedback loop is created as the rain promotes more fungal growth, spore expulsion, and subsequent additional condensed moisture

  27. Some mushrooms can release 2.7 billion spores per day

  28. The air we breathe contains more than 10000 fungal spores per cubic meter; we breathe up to 10 spores with every breath

  29. Spores land on their preferred food and germinate, growing in three dimensions if possible – as long as there is food substrate to grow into

  30. To differentiate between the two: “toadstools” are brightly colored and poisonous to eat, but “mushrooms” are usually edible and dull in color; both toadstools and mushrooms belong to the same group, the Basidiomycetes, so scientists make no distinction between the two

  31. Death Cap mushrooms case about 90% of all fungus-related deaths

  32. Generally mushrooms are very nutritious; they are low-calorie, low-sodium, high in protein and provide several important nutrients including selenium and Vitamin B12

  33. Fungi have been associated with the field of medicine for about 4500 years

  34. Fungi are the source of many important drugs like immune enhancing medications, immune suppressant medications, antibiotics, and cholesterol-lowering drugs – even “Beano”

  35. Lichens actually represent a symbiotic relationship between mycelium (95%), algal cells, and cyanobacteria and can be hundreds of years old

  36. Given the right conditions it is believed a fungus can grow forever

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Can you think of any fun facts I missed? Please do comment!

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