Hats Off to Pilobolus

— feeling bad smell


P.S. Paul would call this cheating since the post is about fungi and not mushrooms but that is a technicality that we just won't tell him about!


Pilobolus crystallinus has been the mycelial love of my life from the moment I read about it. It was love at first sight. Look at it, can you blame me?



If the cuteness doesn't make you fall for this fungal bad boy, then the bowler hats sure will! 




Other than doffing the hats to beautiful ladies, this fungus uses them for a very important function - this is why I called it a fungal bad boy - reproduction! while it is not the only fungus to do this - all the zygomycetes and ascomycetes are kinky weirdos - this guy is the fastest. Commonly called the hat throwers, these fungi catapult their spores when dispersing them. This 18-hr time lapse video shows how.


In short, a spore is placed on top of a fluid-filled stalk. Turgor pressure keeps building within the stalk until it triggers an instantaneous spore release. The Student Voices blog compares the acceleration of this discharge in an amusing way:


The acceleration of the fungus during this act is between 20,000 to 180,000 G (2.8 to 5.6 kg/cm2 or 40-80 psi) while "space shuttles upon liftoff generate ~3 G and supersonic fighter jets may reach a maximum of 9 G)! For humans, any sustained G-force above 10 G may be fatal"


Among its deviant characters is also its predilection of growing in poo and plant debris. With its explosive way, it flings the spores away from one pile of poo to another. The fungus aims in the direction of the setting sun. The spores are often ingested by animals and pass out unharmed and ready to become tiny independent deviants themselves.


Scrolling down to the comments section on the BPotD page, I found more interesting stuff:


1. The fungus has a dance company named after it since at the time of the company's formation, one of the founding members was researching Pilobolus.




2. A commenter, Sara, made a funny:

"Ok, so people study the weirdest things! Such a tiny fungus on a pile of manure... what would possess someone to get on their knees to examine that? I guess if the pile got white and fuzzy? yeah. right. It is lovely and fascinating to read about, but going there in the first place..yikes."


3. To which another commenter replied and I learned that the study of excrement is called Scatology.


4. An almost poetic description of the fungus by W.B. Grove:


“Imagine an oval translucent vase of exquisite outline, carved from a single diamond, not indeed of the finest water, but brought from South African Fields, tinged with a delicate yellow colour. Place beneath this a gracefully curved slender stem, of crystal clear, and where they join let a circlet of the purest gold lie coiled within the tube. Then let a beautiful and limpid light radiate from every part. To enhance its effect, take a piece of blackest jet, shaped into a perfect hemisphere. Polish its surface until it shines like a Venetian mirror, and gently poise this sooty crown over the mouth of the transparent vase. Let glistening strings of orient pearls hang around in graceful festoons, and imagine the whole of this priceless work reduced in size till the total height exceeds not a twentieth of an inch. To complete the contrast, thickly strew these fairy jewels over the half-dried surface of a cake of cow dung, and you have imitated nature as far as your powers allow. To mortals this treasure is known by the name Pilobolus, and the particular species I have pictured is called Pilobolus kleinii.”


I'll end this post with a few stanzas of the poem, Fung in the Dung:



"Who are you?" we said. "Has the cat got your tongue?"
"I'm your really good friend; I'm the Fung in the Dung!

"My name is Pilobolus, I'm the hat thrower.
My lid I can flip just like a snow blower!

Here are some feces, they don't look like Reese's,
but they're eaten by me and all of my species.

We all belong to the Zygomycota--
a phylum of fungi, not a kind O'Toyota.

Now, you may turn up your big nose at this poop,
but for Fung in the Dung it's much better than soup.


#fungi #Pilobolus #bpotd #Fung in the Dung