Are There in Your Garden? Or On Your Plate? Could You Be Eating Carnivorous Fungi Yourself? Discover The World of Fungi Carnivores Here, Now!

I often write about how fungi get their nourishment from decomposing organic matter. Many fungi are like this and they are very good at it. But there is another group of fungi that needs considering. These are the carnivorous fungi, aka predaceous fungi. Carnivorous fungi get their nourishment by trapping and eating animals!

Carnivorous fungi, Oyster Mushrooms
Carnivorous Fungi, Oyster Mushrooms

The animals that predaceous fungi trap and feed on aren’t the big ones we can easily see. They trap the microscopic animals found in soil and other places. There are more than 200 species capable of doing this and the belong to the phyla Ascomycota, Mucoromycotina, and Basidiomycota.

And this isnt a new species doing this. Predaceous and Carnivorous Fungi go back to at least the age of the dinosaurs. We know this because the hyphael rings produced by the fungi plus some nematodes have been trapped in amber and were investigated by Alexander R. Schmidt from Gottingen University. The paper, Carnivorous Fungi From Cretaceous Amber is here.

How Fungi Hunt and Kill Nematodes

The method used above is a bit like a cowboy lassoing cattle. Only this time the lasso is a hyphael thread loop through which the nematode tries to go through, only to be started.

Another predaceous fungi is the carnivorous mushroom Pleurotus ostreatus. This one uses a different technique. It uses a toxin to  paralyse and kill nematode prey upon contact. The method employed is to produce lollipop-shaped structures called toxocysts on the hyphae. The toxocysts contain a volatile ketone, 3-octanone, which works on contact. It’s a bit like using the point of an umbrella but much faster acting!

The Fungi On Your Plate Is a Killer

If you want to find killer fungi go no further than your local supermarket. That’s the best way to find them.

Pleurotus ostreatus are the killers in question and they are guilty of slaughter on a grand scale. And in case you don’t recognise the name they are usually labelled as Oyster mushrooms!

Other Predatory Fungi Killing Techniques

So far I’ve mentioned the use of nematocidal toxins and hyphael lassos. But some fungi set the dogs on the nematodes.

OK, not exactly dogs, but it’s the same principle. They set loose nematode-sniffing hunter cells that set off in pursuit of the nematodes. When they catch the nematode they encyst it and start to devour it by injecting themselves in to it and eating its internal organs. Being a nematode isn’t a walk in the park!

Other fungi use baited traps. The nematode com along, see a tasty morsel and eat it. But that morsel is a part of the fungi and once inside the nematode starts to eat in from the inside. It’s a bit like going to a restaurant where the restaurant is the meal.

Then we have the fungi armed with guided missiles. If a nematode comes close enough the fungi releases a harpoon that stabs the nematode which soon becomes lunch.

The Silver Lining to the Mycelial Murderer

Despite the mayhem and murder spread buy Oyster and other mushrooms they aren’t all bad. Oyster mushroom are now being used too create mycelial packing materials and they are used to treat polluted soil.

When there has been a big diesel spill Oyster mushrooms are capable of converting 95% of the diesel into non toxic compounds. They are also capable of growing on and degrading certain plastics and polythenes. So it could be that this versatile consumer of nematodes, decaying organic matter and oil will be harnessed to devour the growing heaps of plastic tha blights our oceans and land.

Tag: Carnivorous Fungi,

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