Some of the world's oldest
The world of fungi is a largely
unseen, hidden and secretive world.
It is a treasure trove of truly
astonishing organisms, including some incredibly old individuals. A living fungus
recently found in America, was already 400 years old at the time of Christ's birth two
thousand years ago!
What are fungi?
Fungi are extraordinary organisms which are
neither plants, nor animals. They are in a Kingdom all of their own.
What do they look like?
The main body of a fungus is
usually composed of enormous numbers of fine, branching threads, called hyphae,
which together form a tangled mat or web. This is the body of the fungus and it is called
a mycelium. It is usually hidden from view.
How do they reproduce?
The familiar mushrooms which we may cook and
eat are the fruiting bodies of the fungus.
Each fruiting body (or more correctly,
'sporophore')produces millions of tiny structures called spores. The spores are so
small that, depending on the type of fungus, you could fit between 500 and 1000 on the
head of a pin!
|Each mushroom, or fruiting body, is
actually only a very small part of the fungus which produced it.
Fruiting bodies are made up of dense collections of hyphae.
They can be thought of as being a bit like the flowers that plants produce.
||The spores have the same purpose as the seeds which plants produce and each
one is capable of growing into a new individual fungus under the right conditions.
How do fungi feed?
Fungi cannot make their food
from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide as plants do, in the process known as
photosynthesis. This is because they lack the green pigment known as chlorophyll, which
plants use to capture light energy. So, like animals, they must obtain their food from
other organisms. They do this in three ways. They may break down or 'rot' dead plants and
animals. Organisms which obtain their food this way are known as 'saprophytes'.
Alternatively they may feed directly off living plants and animals as 'parasites'. A third
group is associated with the roots of plants in what are termed mycorrhizae.
|There are literally thousands of different
kinds of fungi. Worldwide, 200,000 species have been described. It is estimated that there
may actually be as many as 1 - 1.5 million species.
In Britain there are more than 20,000 species of fungi. Most of these are
microfungi, too small to be easily noticed. Approximately 3,000 are macro (large) fungi.
Click on the 'contents' link below to access a wide
range of information on these largely invisible giants. You can also access activity
sheets related to fungi, or try out the Ranger's Puzzle Page, with Wordsearch, Crossword
and Ranger's bad joke!.