Monday Organism – Armillaria bulbosa – The Humungous Fungus

Typical A. bulbosa mushroom

Typical A. bulbosa mushroom

Yeah, I’m cheap. I’m studying for my Botany exam and that’s where I find my blog-fodder. At least for this week.

The subject of this week’s Monday Organism is actually a bloody huge mushroom. The photo you see is just that, a mushroom. What most people don’t know about fungi is that the mushroom (that tasty bit you put on your pizza) is only a small (yet significant) part of the entire organism.

Without getting too deep into fungi (an undergrad prior to an exam is the most likely to get deep about esoteric nonsense 🙂 ), I wish to introduce at least two elementary terms regarding fungi – if only to illustrate the epic coolness of this week’s organism:

Firstly, fungi have an underground arrangement of thin, living, ever expanding threads. Each thread is called a hypha (plural hyphae). A complex of hyphae is called a mycelium (plural mycelia. Isn’t Latin great?).

The hyphae are basically the backbone of fungi life. Since fungi are either parasites or saprobes (that is, they live on dead organic material), they’re well adapted for absorbing nutrients and inflitrating living tissue (ew, I know). Mycelia are perfect for these purposes because of the high surface-to-volume ratio in each hypha. This allows for optimal nutrient absorption and easy access to host organisms.

In a somewhat colorful example, my textbook describes a tiny mushroom hopping on a microscopic worm and then simply expand into it by mitotic divisions once the fungal spores attach to the worm’s body.

or as more aptly put: OWNED.

Anyway, epic coolness ahead.

Armillaria bulbosa dispatches the occasional mushroom to the ground (it’s edible, by the way.) However, its mycelia are actually a coherent unit, that is, one organism. Why epically cool?

Because in the case of some individual A. bulbosas, the mycelia are about 10,000 years old (!!!1one).

For individuals that old, it perforce means that the mycelia expanded into a truly gigantic stretch underground. For that individual I just mentioned (a specimen from the North Michigan forest in the US) – the estimated total area occupied by A. bulbosa’s mycelia is 38 acres, weighing a total of 100 tons (Friggin hell, that’s the weight of an adult whale, people).

Phew. *Takes breath*.

Bon Appetit! Time to get crackin’ on those books again.

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14 Responses to “Monday Organism – Armillaria bulbosa – The Humungous Fungus”

  1. FruitTree Says:

    This is so cool! Excellent post!

    Once again, I’ll do my part by contributing yet another ignorant question.
    If the mycelium is composed of living tissue, how do you determine it’s age?
    Aren’t living-tissues constantly change, die and recreate?

    I’m asking this because the only dating method I’m (scarcely) familiar with is the radiometric dating which is based on isotope decay rates (which basically means… you’re a fossil?).

  2. Freidenker Says:

    Hi! Make sure you let me know if comment notification works!

    As to your question: A. bulbosa is not a fossil, it’s a living organism. That said – measuring its age is A LOT easier (and *way* more accurate) than measuring the age of a fossil. Estimating fossil ages only gives you a ballpark of *at least* how old the fossil is.

    Anyhoo, mycelia are formed at a certain pace. The simplest way to answer your question would be “you measure the speed of mitotic expansion and extrapolate based on the measured surface area of all mycelia”.

    The reason this whole abomination (I can’t help thinking of some Zerg overmind or something) is considered one organism is because it has a coherent web of mycelia.

    Many sporing organisms (think of plants, other fungi etc.) go a long way before they “start afresh”. This feller here is capable of expanding a single mycelium ENORMOUSLY.

    Obviously, the cells themselves constantly replace themselves (the same goes for *all* of the cells in your body. Hell, your liver cells change completely every 6 months!) – You don’t claim to be “descended” of your past self every 6 months, right?

  3. Freidenker Says:

    (Btw, I DO. Every time I am reborn, I gain a superpower.
    I AM THE SON OF THE PREVIOUS SHAI. TREMBLE, FEEBLE MORTAL)

  4. FruitTree Says:

    Hey man! Thanks for the answer.
    It took me quite some time to realize you’ve replied – which gives you an answer about the comment notification thingy. It doesn’t work.

    Hope you’re doing well.

  5. Freidenker Says:

    Ffs! I’ll try and fix it. someone will have to go on and check if it works with me.

    Oh, and you’re welcome 🙂

  6. reasonable robinson Says:

    Wow! what an amazing picture. Spotted this nice You Tube too (if you are into mycelium)

    Mushrooms in the UK

  7. Belated Monday Organism - Kakapo - The Flightless Parrot | Obsessed With Reality Says:

    […] the greatest longevity not only among parrots, but among all birds as well. Putting aside monstrous mycelia, for animals, the question does arise whether there’s a causative link between body […]

  8. Mark Says:

    Haha, made me think of Zerg too.

    Does being a coherent organism mean anything apart for being a connected mass? Is there any method of communication between cells on one end with the cells on the other?

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