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What Do Mushrooms Eat? This May Surprise You

Mushrooms are unique organisms. They aren’t actually plants. They’re fungi. This means that they don’t make their own food like plants. Then what do they eat?

Mushrooms eat decaying matter. Mushroom digestive enzymes are outside the body of the mushroom in the form of thread-like strands called hyphae which secrete digestive enzymes on the outside of their food source and then absorb the digested food through their cell walls and into their bodies.

However, different types of mushrooms break this decaying matter in a slightly different manner. 

In this article, I’m going to share all about how mushrooms prepare their food and what they eat exactly. 

How Do Mushrooms Prepare Their Food?

Do mushrooms reproduce

Mushrooms are a type of fungi. Fungi are not autotrophs. They don’t have any green pigment and can not make food by using light. 

This quality makes them different from plants. Fungi are rather heterotrophs which means they depend on other species for nutrition.  

Fungi can form mutualistic relations with plants and algae. However, most mushrooms are saprotrophs. They rely on non-living organic matter to meet their nutritional requirements. 

Mushrooms decompose decayed animal and plant remains and absorb their minerals and nutrients. Fungi and mushrooms typically do not have mouth cavities or guts. 

They need to digest the organic matter before it enters their cellular structures. For this, fungi or mushrooms have modified, thread-like arrangements called hyphae.

Mushroom hyphae secrete acids and enzymes to convert complex organic matter into simpler forms. The fungi body quickly absorbs this simpler matter. Another function of this thin structure is increasing surface area to absorb nutrients better. 

Mushrooms store these nutrients and minerals in their body. When their storage is full, mushrooms start flowering. They also begin reproducing and birth other mushrooms. 

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Do Mushrooms Feed on The Dead Matter?

Yes, mushrooms are saprotrophs and feed on non-living matter. Dead organisms like animals, insects, and plants are the primary sources of nutrition for most fungi. 

Mushrooms feed on organic matter derived from rotting organisms and modify it into less complex matter. Fungi can easily absorb more simple matter and gain nutrition from it. 

Are All Mushrooms Vegan?

The answer is NO. Most of the mushrooms only feed on plants and dead matter. However, there is a mushroom that consumes other living organisms. 

Scientists in the late 1900s discovered a  predatory mushroom. The name of this mushroom is the Oyster mushroom and it feeds on other tiny roundworms. 

Its attacking method is paralyzing and killing its prey. Then, absorbing nutrients from the target by using its filaments. It is the only known mushroom that is carnivorous. 

Do Mushrooms Eat Grass?

The answer is YES. It is not so common, but mushrooms do eat grass. After all, most of them are herbivorous. But there is no need to worry. 

Even though mushrooms are herbivorous, they will not destroy your beautiful garden. It is the opposite. Cultivating mushrooms in your garden are relatively good for your plants. 

Gardens have a lot of organic matter from the breakdown of non-living plants and trees. Mushrooms can further decay this organic matter and release various valuable nutrients into the earth. 

Doing so makes the soil more fertile and nutritionally rich. The fertile land and the availability of enough nutrients help the plants in your garden grow faster. The plants and trees also appear healthier and greener by cultivating mushrooms.

How do Different Types Of Mushrooms Feed?

Mushrooms show distinction in their mode of nutrition. Here are a few mushrooms and their methods of nutrition: 

Chaga: 

Chaga is an odd-looking mushroom known for its dark, burnt charcoal appearance. They have a parasitic mode of nutrition and feed on living trees. These prey on all sorts of species, including animals, trees, young plants, and even insects. 

Chaga mushrooms secrete enzymes or acids which disintegrate host tissues and absorb minerals and nutrients from inside of the host. These harmful mushrooms cause illness in the host, which often ends in the host’s death. 

Quick Fact:

There are three types of parasitic fungi. Obligate parasites remain as parasites all the time. They can’t live without a host providing food to them. They need to have prey, or they will die. Facultative saprotrophs are parasitic, but they can also live without their prey. They can turn saprotrophic and feed on decaying matter if the host is absent. Facultative parasites are mostly saprotrophic but turn parasitic if needed. 

Chaga is obligate parasitic and should never be grown on dead trees. Because if the tree dies, the Chaga mushroom also dies with it. Despite being parasitic, Chaga is a remedial fungus and has anti-cancer properties.  

Morels:

Morels are easily discovered because of their honeycomb structure and are commonly used as a texture booster in various cuisines. They are edible and are known to have the best taste. 

Quick Fact:

There are two types of saprotrophic mushrooms. One of them is ectophytic saprotrophs. These saprotrophs grow on top of decaying matter. The other type is endophytic saprotrophs which live inside the decaying matter. Morels are ectotrophic mushrooms. 

Morels feed on non-living matter, dead animals, and decaying plants. They show a saprotrophic mode of nutrition. Morels expel digestive acid onto the non-living matter. The complex matter breaks down into simpler matter that absorbs into the morel body. 

Saprotrophs like morels play a critical role in maintaining a balance of minerals and nutrients in the ecosystem. They speed up the natural breakdown of dead matter. Being the recycler of the ecosystem, they restore the natural nutrients and minerals to the earth.  

Truffles:

Truffles are subterranean fungi and fruiting bodies. They are edible underground fungi used for making sauce for a variety of dishes. Their aroma is complex, deep, musky, and even nutty, and it tastes chocolaty, nutty, and earthly. Truffles are mycorrhizal mushrooms and depend on plants for food.

Mycorrhizal fungi form mutualistic relationships with other species like trees, plants, algae, and root tubers. While mycorrhizal mushrooms mostly prefer plants and trees. 

Truffles use their belowground mycelium structure to connect with the root ends of trees. They increase the extent of the root ends and help them absorb anything better. Plants obtain more minerals and water to make food. In return, the fungi get nutrition and shelter from the trees. 

Quick Fact:

There are two types of mycorrhizal mushrooms. 

  1. Ectophytic mushrooms have their mycelium tightly tied around the roots. 
  2. Endophytic mushrooms don’t encircle their mycelium around the plant. They infiltrate the cellular compartments of the plant.

Furthermore, Plants experience rapid growth in a mycorrhizal relationship. That is why 95% of trees and plants form mutually helpful associations with fungi.

Oysters:

Researchers found out that oyster mushrooms were carnivores in the late 1900s. They are one of the few fungi that feed on meat. They are known to have predatory modes of nutrition. Their main target is roundworms (also known as nematodes). 

Roundworms are abundantly found in soil and look like tiny, clear worms. These clear worms come in contact with oysters. The oysters paralyze them, which ends in the death of the target. 

This deadly mushroom has filaments that tear into the body of the dead roundworm. The filaments secrete enzymes that decompose the inner parts of the nematodes. The oysters then consume the decomposed matter. Furthermore, oysters are the only vegetarian food that preys on living organisms. 

Honey Fungus: 

Honey fungus is a honey-colored mushroom belonging to the Armillaria family. This fungus is primarily found in trees and woody shrubs. It is an unusual mushroom that can act as a parasite and a saprotroph. 

The honey fungus causes the root decay of woody and herbaceous perennial plants. It acts as a parasite by growing below the ground and killing the perennial plant by damaging its roots. 

It also shows saprotrophic abilities by decaying the dead perennial plant and absorbing nutrients from it. Honey fungus is edible. However, it should be kept away from the garden because it can cause all your plants to rot and destroy your garden. 

Can Mushrooms Be Endophytic?

Not many mushrooms are endophytic, but they do exist. Endophytes are unpredictable and complex species of fungi. 

They portray a combination of all other modes of nutrition shown by fungi. Similar to parasitic fungi, they infect the tissues of plants and gain nutrients from the host. 

However, they don’t cause disease in the host. The host is not harmed and somewhat benefited. 

Saprotrophs support healthy growth in hosts and help them build resistance against biotic and abiotic factors. As a result, plants grow better in their presence. This is why most plants have more or more endophytic attached to them.

Mutualistic relations with the host must have made you think that saprotrophs are mycorrhizal. But unlike mycorrhiza, they are commonly found without a host. 

The beneficial association of saprotrophs with plants is particularly significant for medicinal plants. Most farmers and gardeners grow saprotrophs near their plants to help them grow better and stronger.

The Takeaway:

Mushrooms are a type of fungi that grow everywhere in all seasons. They are primarily saprotrophs and play the role of the decomposer in the ecosystem. 

They also restore the nutrients to the earth by decomposing all the dead organisms. They also form a mutualistic association with plants and trees. Both the fungi and plants benefit from the partnership. 

Other than these positive roles, mushrooms can also negatively affect other species in the ecosystem. 

For instance, parasitic mushrooms form a predator-prey association with their hosts. Mushrooms gain all the benefits in the form of nutrition, and the host suffers harm in return. 

However, the overall role of mushrooms in the ecosystem as the recycler can not be ignored.