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.