For several weeks I wondered: What is it that I am seeing here?
There were lots of little off-shoots of the single strands of mycelium, at fairly regular intervals.
Someone had suggested the fungus started branching off in search for food, but this did not fit the pattern I saw.
Branching fungal strands, hyphae, maintain their diameter as they grow. What puzzled me – these appeared pointy at the top, and reminded me of coral polyps, and the tiny female flowers of hazels. Have you ever seen these? You have to get close-up and personal to notice these georgeous crimson red beauties. How do these tiny flowers grow into such tasty morsels as hazelnuts?! But that’s another marvel!
The pointy structures were also a bit too regular and too numerous – surely this would be a great energy expense for the fungus? For what gain?
Then, a fellow soil food web student (thanks Robert T!) posted a similar but better quality image, and Dr Ingham commented these were phialides, reproductive structures. Hmm, are these what make mushroom bodies? No – they did not have the “right shape” for mushrooms, so off to the internet in the search for more answers…
Oh dear, it does not start well: Minter et al. are not exactly encouraging when they say “nobody is agreed on what a typical phialide is and nobody can be certain what anyone else means by the term”. Oops, well, but that was more than 20 years ago, right?
Fast forward to 2016: “Phialides are vase-shaped cells (…), that develop on conidiophores.” – OK, thanks Nicholas P. Money that’s a fair description, but what are they for?? And what are conidiophores?
Turns out, the sex life of fungi is rather diverse, and seems to involve a lot more terms to look up! Here is an abbreviated version:
Fungi propagete through spores. Similarly to plant seeds these contains the fungal DNA and the potential to start a new fungal organism. Also similarly to plants, fungi can multiply with and without sex. DIY offspring!
If you are thinking of a mushroom walk in the woods or are picking a box from the veg isle, you are handling the particular fruiting bodies of one particular group of fungi (the basidiomycetes). Under their mushroom umbrellas they grow their spores, and when the conditions are right, disperse them in the air or water to find another place to grow.
And it seems, nature has evolved many more funky effective dispersal methods, depending on where these spores are, and whether they are over- or underground: “squirt guns, explosive stalks, and a catapult powered by surface tension”. Sounds like this book contains much to be surprised by, and a synthesis of recent fungal research.
But back to our puzzle. What about condidiophores on phialides??
Conidia are non-moving, asexual spores. The name arises from the Greek word for dust.
Before their dispersal, conidia sit at the end of a stalk structure, attached to the hyphae – a strand of the the underground mycelium network. The spore-carrying stalk, called a conidiophore, comes in all shapes and sizes, depending on the species.
In the case of my picture, the fungi haven’t quite got to the spore-making bit yet.
If they had, it would probably look something like this:
Condida all all around us, apparently over the last hour you and I have just breathed in approx. 40 of them, and our immune response in the lungs cleverly knows how to respond so potential pathogens don’t harm us. Most of the time.
Wow, did not expect to go full-circle into human health during this somewhat technical anatomical and physiological excursion! For future reference, here is a little overview of different types of spores:
|Asexual reproduction – single organism. Those that can sexually reproduce also use asexual reproduction. |
> Cells can split (fission) or make buds that than separate from the parent cell
> Broken bits of hypha can grow into a separate organisms
> Asexual spores form. The majority of spores arise in this manner.
|Sexual spores – typically two parental organisms |
|Blastospores (bud at the end of a hypha)||Ascospores (spores contained in a sac = ascus)|
|Conidia (“dust” particles on a vase-like stalk)||Basidiospores (club-shaped structures, your “typical” mushroom)|
|Chlamydosphore (thick walls to survive unfavourable conditions)||Oospores (formed in a female organ)|
|Sporangiospores (formed in round sac-like structure on an areal hypha)||Zygospores (thick walled spores)|
P.S. In case if you are wondering about the strange colour of the photo above – it came from a veg plot. The colour has gone reddish/purple after I used a candle to slow down a fast moving nematode for identification. It dried out the sample, and the sut from the candle contributed to the colour change.
P. P. S. I care for my nematodes, and immediately inserted it back into water, and out it went to the compost. Hope it recovered and lived on happily.