Wednesday 25 July 2012

Hat-thrower Fungus

Image source
Pilobolus crystallinus
It's the fastest living thing on Earth! And some people like to call it the "Dung Cannon". Hmmm... I don't like the sound of that.

Thankfully, the "dung" bit comes from where they live. Lamentable as it may be, fungus living on poo is no great surprise.

Sure you have your fungi that make mushrooms you can eat, but there are also fungi who's very presence mark edible things as very obviously not edible any more. Unless you're one of those Gorgonzola people, of course. Blue cheese is just weird, though.

The Hat-thrower Fungus is tiny and inhabits juicy, wet heaps of dung. No-one will be eating the Hat-thrower Fungus. If not because of where it comes from, then at least because it's small enough to look like nothing more than fuzz on a plopball.

But if you get on your hands and knees and take a close look. A really close look. Closer. CLOSER! Oh... You wash your face, I'll get the microscope. Or should it be a telescope?

That fuzz is actually a field of tiny barrels on stalks, each topped with a black, somewhat "hat". The whole purpose of this structure is to throw the hat as far away from the dung as possible. A laudable aim. Although, as with any fungus, the rest of it remains in the damp darkness, eating its stinky surroundings via a kind of root system.

As the barrel develops, it fills with some kind of liquid. It fills and fills, bulges and bulges and eventually POPS! The black hat is propelled through the air with astonishing speed. After 1 millimetre of travel it will already be speeding along at 45 mph. This is an acceleration of 20,000g. Given that 1g is enough to dissuade us from jumping off cliffs, 20,000g would make walking down stairs a very bad idea.

All this effort is used to get that black hat a couple metres away from the steaming pile of dung and hopefully stuck onto a juicy blade of grass or some other vegetation. A hungry cow or horse, almost as wary of cow pats as we are, will find this bit of grass sweet, fragrant and good enough to eat.

Image: gishpeherd_br via Flickr
The black hat or sporangium. You can see some of the spores inside
Passing straight through the digestive system, the black hat reveals itself to be full to brim with huge numbers of spores. It passes out when the Circle of Life reaches the smelly stage. All those spores now grow, feed and develop a whole new fuzz of Dung Cannons.

Nature is full of crap, sometimes.


FaustXIII said...

Pooton Cannon!

Joseph JG said...

Ha! I had to look that one up. That's a good word!

TexWisGirl said...

too cute! little popping pinheads!

Joseph JG said...

Hahahah! Some of the things you find cute are so weird!

Anonymous said...

So this is the famous "Black Hat Convention" hmm...

Joseph JG said...

Yup! You wouldn't think it would be held on a cow pat but I guess it keeps outsiders away.

Anonymous said...

the video does not exist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Joseph JG said...


It happens sometimes. I found a couple more though!

Thanks for the warning!