National Geographic : 2000 Aug
PLANTS OR AN IMALS? Fungi are neither, making up their own kingdom. They range in size from the microscopic to a spe cies that is known to spread over 30 acres. Fungi lean toward an animal lifestyle in that they consume other organisms for nutrition, since, unlike plants, they can't produce their own food. Yet, like some plants, certain fungi cast their fate to the wind, sending forth spores to drift where they will, something that allergy sufferers feel all too keenly. The energetic way one variety broadcasts its spores inspired the name of its genus, Pilobolus (right), which means "hat thrower." After landing on leaves and grass, its spores are ingested by a deer, horse, or other herbi vore, pass through the intestines, then germi nate in the animal's dung. Humans too are unwitting hosts to fungi, which cause athlete's foot, jock itch, and yeast infections. Fungus experts, called mycologists, estimate that the Earth may harbor as many as 1.5 million fungus species, but only a fraction have been described. A sunburst design emerged as a gilled mush room dropped its spores onto paper. Dew clings to a shotgun fungus growing on rabbit dung. When mature, dark button-like spore cases shoot six feet or more.