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Fungi

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A fungus is any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi reproduce via spores, which are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are inconspicuous to the naked eye because of the small size of their structures, and their cryptic lifestyles in soil, on dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. Fungi perform an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and have fundamental roles in nutrient cycling and exchange. They have long been used as a direct source of food, such as mushrooms and truffles, as a leavening agent for bread, and in fermentation of various food products, such as wine, beer, and soy sauce. Since the 1940s, fungi have been used for the production of antibiotics, and, more recently, various enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungi are also used as biological agents to control weeds and pests. Many species produce bioactive compounds called mycotoxins, such as alkaloids and polyketides, that are toxic to animals including humans. The fruiting structures of a few species are consumed recreationally or in traditional ceremonies as a source of psychotropic compounds. Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. Losses of crops due to fungal diseases or food spoilage can have a large impact on human food supplies and local economies. Despite their importance on human affairs, little is known of the true biodiversity of Kingdom Fungi, which has been estimated at around 1.5 million species, with about 5% of these having been formally classified.

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Suillus spraguei
Suillus spraguei is a species of fungus in the Suillaceae family. It is known by a variety of common names, including the painted slipperycap, the painted suillus or the red and yellow suillus. Suillus spraguei has had a complex taxonomical history, and is also frequently referred to Suillus pictus in the literature. The readily identifiable fruit bodies have caps that are dark red when fresh, dry to the touch, and covered with mats of hairs and scales that are separated by yellow cracks. On the underside of the cap are small, yellow, angular pores that become brownish as the mushroom ages. The stalk bears a grayish cottony ring, and is typically covered with soft hairs or scales.

Suillus spraguei grows in a mycorrhizal association with several pine species, particularly eastern white pine, and the fruit bodies grow on the ground, appearing from early summer to autumn. It has a disjunct distribution, and is found in eastern Asia, northeastern North America, and Mexico throughout the range of the host tree. The mushroom is edible, although opinions about its quality vary. The mushroom bears a resemblance to several other Suillus species, including the closely related S. decipiens, although the species can be differentiated by variations in color and size.

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Marasmius rotula 89484.jpg
Marasmius rotula is a species of fungus in the Marasmiaceae family of mushrooms. It is commonly known variously as the pinwheel mushroom, the pinwheel Marasmius, the little wheel, the collared parachute, or the horse hair fungus. It is a widespread and common fungus, and is the type species of the genus Marasmius. The fruit body is characterized by its whitish, thin, membranous cap, its long and slender but tough black stem, and widely-spaced white gills that are attached to a collar encircling but not touching the stem. The fungus grows on decaying wood and leaves. Unlike other mushrooms known to release spores in response to an internal timer, or circadian rhythm, spore release in M. rotula is dependent on rain.

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Mycena atkinsoniana 60804.jpg
Credit: Dan Molter
Mycena atkinsoniana is one of the so-called "bleeding mycenas" that will ooze yellow to orange juice when injured.

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