50 Fascinating Fungal Facts: From Zombie Ants to Glittery Spores

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1Zombie Fungus and Ants

Zombie Fungus and Ants

The fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as the zombie fungus, doesn't control ants by infecting their brains. Instead, it destroys the motor neurons and connects directly to the muscles to control them, effectively making the brain a prisoner in its own body.

2. Trichoderma reesei is a fungus with the potential to help repair aging, crumbling infrastructure. When mixed with concrete, this fungus remains dormant until the first crack appears. At that point, the dormant fungal spores germinate, grow, and precipitate calcium carbonate to heal the cracks.

3. A European fungus that accidentally spread to North America in 2006 has caused bat populations across the US and Canada to plummet by over 90%. Formerly very common bat species now face extinction, having already almost entirely disappeared over the Northeastern US and Eastern Canada.

4. There is a type of eco-burial that involves a mushroom suit, which digests your body after you die. Luke Perry was buried in one.

5. Scientists have discovered a species of fungus at Chernobyl that uses the gamma radiation from nuclear waste as a food source.

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6Stonemaker Fungus Emergence

Stonemaker Fungus Emergence

The Stonemaker Fungus is an Australian fungus that only emerges immediately following a forest fire. They live underground in a stone-like mycelium and pop up through the ashes 2-10 days after the fire, sometimes as infrequently as every 100 years.

7. There is a mushroom called "Chicken of the Woods." It tastes like chicken to some, but to others, it tastes like crab or lobster.

8. A mycologist named Paul Stamets argues that mushrooms will revolutionize our way of life by using mycelium fungus to clean polluted soil, make insecticides, treat smallpox, and even flu viruses.

9. Every year, five million gallons of Kentucky's "angel's share" of bourbon evaporate, exposing the state to a black fungus known as "Baudoinia" that feeds on the ethanol vapor that the liquor releases as it ages.

10. Entomophthora muscae, a fungus epidemic, kills 75% of houseflies every autumn. It attacks their brains, forcing them to land on a surface, climb to the highest point, stand up on their front legs, and spread their wings. The fungus then erupts from their abdomen to be spread to other flies.

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11Patagonian Fungus Diesel

Patagonian Fungus Diesel

There is a tree fungus named gliocladium roseum that digests waste products and produces diesel-like chemicals when provoked. A scientist discovered it in the Patagonian rainforest and believes it could transform into a renewable energy source and alter our understanding of oil.

12. Alexander Fleming's mold could not produce penicillin fast enough for mass production, and it wasn't until 15 years later that one of his lab workers, Mary Hunt, tested a moldy cantaloupe in a grocery store and discovered the strain that is used to mass produce all penicillin today.

13. With its smell, a mushroom named Phallus indusiatus can induce spontaneous orgasms in women.

14. Japan has a 'national fungus', Aspergillus oryzae, or koji, which is essential for brewing sake and making miso, soy sauce, and other traditional Japanese foods.

15. The thick white rind on the outside of a wheel of brie cheese is actually mold, specifically Penicillum candidum.

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16Titanic Microbe Discovery

Titanic Microbe Discovery

The Titanic was the site of discovery for tiny iron-eating microbes. These microbes form icicle-shaped "rusticles" composed of 35% iron compounds and a community of symbiotic microbes and fungi. By 2045, we expect them to dissolve the Titanic.

17. Seamus Blackley, an amateur Egyptologist, successfully baked bread with 4,500-year-old yeast extracted from ancient Egyptian ceramics, which were once used to bake bread and brew beer. During the extraction process, they injected a nutrient solution into the ceramics to activate the dormant yeast.

18. Vegemite is actually the leftover concentrated yeast mixture from the bottom of alcohol barrels.

19. False morels, a type of mushroom, contain a poison that can be metabolized into rocket fuel.

20. In 2011, a biology professor extracted yeast from a 45-million-year-old insect from Myanmar that was trapped in amber and brewed beer from it.

21Split-Gill Mushroom Sexes

Split-Gill Mushroom Sexes

The split-gill mushroom has over 23,328 distinct sexes, but not all can successfully mate with one another. Each sex can only be fertile with 22,960 other sexes.

22. Magic mushrooms create a hyperconnected brain that induces trippy experiences. The active ingredient in the psychedelic drug, psilocybin, disrupts the normal communication networks in the brain by connecting "brain regions that don't normally talk together."

23. There is a species of Amazon fungus that feeds on plastic. It can survive on plastic alone, even without oxygen. It can potentially lead to new techniques for bioremediation.

24. The Bonin Islands near Japan are home to a mushroom known as "Green Pepe." It is named after its bioluminescent green glow.

25. The oyster mushroom is carnivorous, supplementing its nitrogen intake by preying on nematode worms. It can paralyze nematodes within minutes of contact and then extract their innards through their mouths.

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