10 Characteristics of Fungi

10 Characteristics of FungiFungi are organisms that are part of the Fungi Kingdom, which includes species such as mushrooms, molds, wood ears and yeasts. Despite their sessile shape and appearance with some plants, these organisms are quite different from the Plant Kingdom.


Heterotrophic organisms

All fungi are heterotrophic, that is, unlike plants, they are not capable of producing their own food, feeding by absorption.

Eukaryotic organisms

In addition to being heterotrophic, fungi are eukaryotic organisms and can be unicellular, as in the case of yeast, or multicellular, such as mushrooms. The latter form filaments that are called hyphae .


The set of hyphae forms the mycelium, which can grow up to a kilometer in length in 24 hours. In some species, hyphae can form special structures called fruiting bodies. These bodies can be seen in mushrooms and wood ears.

The hyphae can be aseptate or septate. Aseptate or coenocytic hyphae are continuous filaments filled with cytoplasmic material and with a large number of nuclei. Septate hyphae, as their name indicates, have septa that form compartments that contain one to two nuclei. In the middle portion of the septum, there is an opening that allows cytoplasmic communication.

The cell wall of fungal cells is made up of chitin, a substance also found in the exoskeleton of arthropods. Their cells, in the vast majority of groups, are characterized by the absence of cilia and flagella, being, therefore, immobile. The movement of spores, the main form of reproduction, is produced only by wind, water or living beings.


Fungi can be classified into four main divisions: Chytridiomycota, Zygomycota, Ascomycota, Basidiomycota .

  • The division Chytridiomycota has representatives with cells that have flagella in at least one stage of the life cycle.
  • The Zygomycota division presents, in most of its representatives, coenocytic hyphae.
  • The Ascomycota division is the largest group of fungi, it has dry hyphae and forms a structure called ascus where spores are formed.
  • The Basidiomycota division presents the majority of macroscopic fungi (like mushrooms) as representatives and stands out for the production of the basidium, a spore-producing structure, in addition to having septate hyphae.


Fungi have a very important ecological role played by some bacteria: decomposition. Despite its importance in the nutrient cycle, this characteristic directly affects man’s economic interests, which end up being harmed by the rotting of various products, mainly food. Species that feed on the remains of other living beings are called saprobic species.

In addition to being decomposers, fungi stand out for their mutualism in the formation of lichens and mycorrhizae. Lichens are formed by the association, mainly, of ascomycetes with green algae or cyanobacteria.

In this association both benefit, since the fungus protects the algae or cyanobacteria against dryness and they offer it organic matter. Mycorrhizae are associations between fungi and plant roots. In these cases, the fungi help the plant obtain nutrients, such as phosphorus, and the plants, in turn, provide organic carbon to the fungi.


Economically, mushrooms are used for various functions. Yeasts, for example, are used in the manufacture of bread, wine and beer thanks to their fermentation capacity. There are also edible mushrooms, such as the champignon. Some fungi are even used in the manufacture of antibiotics, such as Penicillium used in the production of penicillin and to replenish the intestinal flora.

Some fungi are parasites and can cause diseases, which are generically called mycoses. Among the main mycoses, we can mention pityriasis versicolor, athlete’s foot and candidiasis.

Characteristics (summary)

  • All fungi are heterotrophic.
  • Fungi are eukaryotic beings and can be unicellular or multicellular.
  • Fungi can be classified into four main divisions: Chytridiomycota, Zygomycota, Ascomycota, Basidiomycota.
  • Mushrooms have a very important ecological role.
  • Fungi stand out for their mutualism in the formation of lichens and mycorrhizae.
  • They can reproduce sexually or asexually.
  • They develop mainly in places with a large presence of organic material and humidity. The absence of light also makes it easier for fungi to develop.
  • They can be multicellular (composed of more than one cell) or unicellular (composed of a single cell). Multicellular fungi, which are the majority, have a stem called mycelium. This mycelium is made up of filaments (hyphae).
  • Mushrooms do not have chlorophyll.
  • The nutrition of fungi is heterotrophic, that is, the nutrients they need to live are obtained through organic matter. However, fungi do not ingest organic matter, but rather obtain their nutrients through an absorption process.
  • Digestion takes place outside the body, that is, they release enzymes that digest organic matter and after this process the nutrients are absorbed.
  • Reproduction through spores is also very common in several fungal species.
  • They have the ability to store reserve material which, like many animals, is glycogen.
  • Economically, mushrooms are used for various functions and applications.
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