Fungi in Motion

by Jennifer Frazer on June 21, 2011

Here’s your Tuesday moment of zen, courtesy of César Sánchez’s Twisted Bacteria blog:

Captured in this time-lapse video taken by one Nick Lariontsev (see here for pictures of the camera setup) is a sampler of fungal growth. In a few cases, it begins with single spores, which would require higher magnification to see. Then, individual fungal threads, or hyphae, sprout and branch in all directions, crossing and recrossing each other. Finally, the group of hyphae becomes a full-fledged mycelium (my-SEAL-ee-um), and then inflates or pinches off certain tips to make spores and sporangia, or spore houses. When the mold changes color from a distance, it is because it is producing colored spores with sunscreen.

You should think of these white fuzzy masses not in sterile petri plates, but in nature. When you turn over a log and see a white mat underneath, you are seeing these filaments. When a fungus attacks a tree, the filaments infiltrate the tree’s cells with a prickly, probing fingers. And when a fungus partners with a tree as a mycorhiza, its hyphae (high-fee) wrap around or penetrate the root — all the way through cell walls to the cell membranes, where they stop so as not to harm the tree. And of course, when takeout spends a bit too long at the Frigidaire spa, it too feels the caress of fungi.

Finally, you see fungus mites briefly at about 3:22, and then again at the very end, where they’re mowing down mold like cows that got into the corn field. In the comments at César’s post, Psi Wavefunction comments that in order to terrorize a mycologist, all one has to do is point and shout “fungus mite!”. I don’t recall every having troubles with them when I was in school, but I can easily believe it. I’ve had enough trouble with aphids and powdery mildews on my plants . . .

Mites are arachnids like spiders and ticks. In fact, mites are in the same taxon (Acari) as ticks. Here’s a close-up of the fungus mites featured in our film:

Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

As for the molds, I don’t know which mold species are which, exactly, except that the tiny black pinheads are probably Mucor, and the grey stuff is likely Botrytis. But for what it’s worth, here are close-ups of conidiophores and conidia (asexual spore houses and spores) of the fungi the author names in the notes as the subjects of the film. All of these molds are extremely common in the environment. Odds are you are breathing in a few of their spores at this very moment. And it’s not cause for panic. Mold spores are everywhere.

Aspergillus fumigatus

Courtesty CDC

Botrytis sp. — so named for the grape-like clusters of spores, and also called “grey mold” for its outward appearance. Ironically, it is also used to produce extremely sweet dessert wines referred to as “Botrytized”. The Germans call it “Trockenbeerenauslese”. Of course.

Creative Commons ninjatacoshell. Click for link.

Mucor — the only zygomycete here. Conidia are housed in a sporangium that looks like a Q-tip (sorry — “cotton swab”).

US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory

Trichoderma. Conidia (asexual spores) are at tips of “phialades”. They blow them up like balloons. In the photo below you can see them in various stages of inflation.

Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture


Creative Commons keisotyo. Click for link.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathryn Bowers June 21, 2011 at 9:56 am

Sunscreen?! Is the process similar (or homologous) to melanin production in human skin?
I love your blog—thank you for the beautiful, clear writing and gorgeous images.

The Phytophactor June 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm

About 25 years ago Nature, the TV program, had a time-lapse video of fungi of various sorts called “The Rotten World Around Us”. It starts with a bowl of fresh fruit that decomposes before you eyes. Great stuff.

Kimberly Gerson June 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Great video.. and I love that mite photo. Feels very sci fi. I blogged on fungus today as well. Micor, to be precise. Must be in the air .. so to speak.

Kimberly Gerson June 21, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Ok, so I can’t type .. that would be Mucor …

dinahmow June 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Hi! You might find this interesting.
Well, it’s about tiny critters (protists) in strange places!

Jennifer Frazer June 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Kathryn — Yes! In fact, fungi (as well as many other groups of organisms) use the group of chemicals called melanins. In addition to providing UV protection, melanins actually seem to help pathogenic fungi attack and invade their hosts. Pretty amazing stuff! Coincidentally, if you live out west, melanins in the fungi carried by mountain pine beetles are what stains the lodgepole pine wood “blue”. Somehow, brown/black melanin looks blue in yellow wood . . .
For more info see

It appears there may even be fungi that use melanins as radiosynthetic pigments to convert gamma rays to food in the abandoned Chernobyl power plant!
I had no idea there were autotrophic fungi until I started looking into this . . .

It looks like even slime molds have gotten in on the melanin action . . .

Dina and Kimberly — Interesting. Thanks!

Quinn O'Neill June 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Awesome post. Love it.

Dana June 26, 2011 at 9:20 am

Great post! Your video was super helpful in my entry yesterday. Glad to find this blog as well; mycology has been quickly rising to the top of favorite things, beside plant pathology and science writing.

Bruce October 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Thanks! Cool stuff.

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