Fungi and Others

Although we consider them dumb growths, fungi, like plants, have entered into complex relationships with vastly different organisms. For example, consider the leaf-cutting ants, a division of the attine ants that harvest lepio-taceae fungi in specific areas within their nests where they feed on the ends of hyphae. Unable to digest cellulose of leaves, the leaf cutters avail themselves of the fungus's ability to convert cellulose into carbohydrates somewhat as we do in using yeast to make beer. The ants (Atta cephalotes) organize their societies around fungal farming, with medium-size ants transporting leaves to the nest and smaller ants inoculating fungi into it with their feces, as well as eliminating other fungi by ingesting them and by means of chemical secretions. The ants have also modified the architecture of their nests to accommodate their fungus gardens. As with our cultivation of corn, which now grows so thickly in its leaves that it cannot reproduce without being stripped by hand or machine, the fungus never undergoes reproduction sexually by producing mushrooms, but instead depends solely upon the ants for their continued existence.

The queen carries spores to begin fungal cultivation of the same asexually propagated basidiomycote fungi; comparative morphology studies suggest that the same species of fungus has been involved with these ants for 23 million years—a length of time that dwarfs human agriculture, thought to have begun a mere 10,000 years ago. Many other fungal symbioses exists, although this one is striking. The fungi are notable in that they are both strongly attractive and repulsive to other forms of life, helping to convert members of their fellow kingdoms back into assimilable nutrients upon their death, but also tempting them to ingest and carry (but not devour) their spores. Like plants, the fungi walk a fine line between being eaten and destroyed by animals, and being ignored and thus insufficiently propagated by them. Psilocybin, which causes hallucinations in humans, grows in cow feces. Pilobilus, a fungus that moves through the intestinal tract of horses, is eliminated by them during defecation. It then jumps several feet to fresh grass. Later, it is eaten by the animals and the cycle continues. As with other organisms, the "environment" of fungi often consists largely of other organisms.

Worm Farming

Worm Farming

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