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Temporal range: Lower DevonianPresent
410 mya–present; earliest=Vendian
A collage of five fungi (clockwise from top-left): a mushroom with a flat, red top with white-spots, and a white stem growing on the ground; a red cup-shaped fungus growing on wood; a stack of green and white moldy bread slices on a plate; a microscopic, spherical grey semitransparent cell, with a smaller spherical cell beside it; a microscopic view of an elongated cellular structure shaped like a microphone, attached to the larger end is a number of smaller roughly circular elements that collectively form a mass around it
Clockwise from top left:
Scientific classification e
(unranked): Opisthokonta
(unranked): Holomycota
(unranked): Zoosporia
Kingdom: Fungi

Dikarya (inc. Deuteromycota)


Subphyla incertae sedis

Clavaria zollingeri 90973
The coral fungus Clavaria zollingeri in Babcock State Park, West Virginia, USA.
2009-07-02 Hyphae with septa
Fungal hyphae with septa

A fungus (plural: fungi) is a kind of living organism: yeasts, moulds and mushrooms that exist as a single filamentous or multicellular body. The filament is known as hyphae multinuclear with cell wall containing chitin or cellulose or both, others are parasitic saprophytic on other organisms and reproduce sexually and asexually.

The fungi are a separate kingdom of living things, different from animals and plants.

Fungi have cells with nuclei. Their cell walls contain chitin, unlike the cell walls of plants, which contain cellulose. These and other differences show that the fungi form a single group of related organisms, called the Eumycota or Eumycetes. They share a common ancestor and are a monophyletic group.

Their basic mode of life is saprophytic: a fungus breaks down dead organic matter around it, and uses it as food.p107

Despite the infobox on the right, the earliest fungi were probably in existence long before the Devonian period. One problem has been what to make of various traces in the Precambrian.



Fungi reproduce both sexually and asexually. Some fungi grow mushrooms: these are fruiting bodies. Under the cap there are gills; the gills bear spores that will disperse, and may develop into new fungi. Otherwise, fungi use a sporangium to bear asexual spores by mitosis, or sexual spores by meiosis. The spores are haploid.

Fungi may be single celled or multicellular. Yeast is single-celled, and reproduces either sexually or asexually. Asexual reproduction occurs by simple budding (binary fission).


Mushroom's roots (mycélium)
Mycelium of a fungus

The mycelium is the vegetative (non-reproductive) part of a fungus. It is usually underground (or inside some other substance), and made of filaments called hyphae.


Hyphae look like threads, or rootlets. The mat of hyphae may be very thickly woven. The fungus uses them to extract nutrients.

Hyphae are usually syncytia. This means the cell walls (septa) are mostly not complete, and the cell nuclei are not separated from each other as in normal cells. Details differ between species.


Symbiosis means living together. Lichens are a symbiosis between a fungus and an alga or bacterium. In this partnership the algal cells live inside the fungus tissue. The end result is a new mat-like life-form which clings to rock and other surfaces. About 20% of all fungi are lichenized.

Another important kind of symbiosis is mycorrhiza. This is when a fungus lives inside plant roots; most trees have mycorrhizal roots, and so do many crop plants. Both sides benefit in this arrangement.


Amanita phalloides 2011 G2
Amanita phalloides is highly poisonous

Some fungi cause crop diseases; others cause serious disease in humans. Some are highly poisonous: never eat a mushroom picked in the wild unless you know what you are doing.


  • Edible fungi are widely used as human food. Certain types of cheese need a fungal species to be added. The fungi give a unique flavor and texture to the cheese.
  • In modern times, some fungi (for example, Penicillin) have been used as a source of antibiotics. The antibiotics are produced by many fungi as a natural defence against bacteria.

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