Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Hunter-Killer Fungus

Fossilised nematode worm
Most of us will be aware that fungi can be found in patches on wallpaper or in compost heaps where they are able to grow through plant material and slowly digest it as long as there is an adequate source of water to enable the fungus to grow.
Some of us will be aware that fungi can infect animal tissue that has been damaged or has inadequate protection from the hosts immune system. This usually means a slow invasion of scar tissue that takes place over many years - though of course if the immune system is completely removed invasion can happen more rapidly.

But did you know that some fungi can actively hunt and kill wild prey and have been doing so for many millions of years?

Nematode worms are widespread across the world, living in most habitats ranging from the ice caps of our polar regions to the steamy heat of our equatorial jungles and account for 90% of the life forms in the deepest parts of our oceans.

There are many forms that parasitise us too! So perhaps we are not too upset to hear that these worms are the prey of specialised fungi. Modern day carnivorous fungi are well characterised and trap their prey by forming looped structures that the worm gets caught up in. The worm is subsequently digested.

Recent investigators have found trapped worms and carnivorous fungi in prehistoric amber that is over 145 million years old so it is apparent that this is an ancient tactic employed by some fungi to take advantage of one of the worlds most plentiful food sources.


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