The recent rain has produced a wide array of fungus, some of which display bizarre shapes, dazzling colours and bioluminescence.
Fungus are abundant and diverse. Visible fungus includes mushrooms, yeast, mould, mildew, puffballs and bracket fungi. Fungus accounts for approximately one quarter of the planet's biomass.
Fungus are considered separate from plants, animals and bacteria. Unlike plants, which can produce their own food through photosynthesis, fungi break down, then absorb nutrients from dead and living organic matter. They play a key role in the decomposition, degradation and recycling of nutrients by changing them from complex materials to simpler substances, which are then available to be released back into the environment.
Only a small part of a fungus is visible. Most of the organism consists of threadlike hyphae which grow to form huge networks in the soil, substrate or in organic matter such as wood. This unseen network is always present and constantly feeds and expands. What we see as fungus, such as mushrooms springing up after rain, is actually the fungal organism reproducing in favourable conditions by creating a fruiting body or sporocap which produces spores. The structure of the sporocap lifts the spores above the ground so they can be dispersed into the air.
Depending on the species, fungus can provide food for plants and animals and can live in beneficial symbiotic relationships with other species. However species of fungus may also be parasitic and pathogenic for plants and animals. For example, the chytrid fungus is causing a worldwide decline in amphibians such as frogs. In humans some species of fungus may cause serious diseases, while others cause minor infections, such as Tinea pedis more familiarly known as Athlete's Foot.
Fungus sporocaps contain many biocompounds. Fungal pigments produce bright colours such as red, pink, orange, blue, purple, green and grey to protect the sporocap from environmental damage.
There are some species of fungus, such as the Deathcap Mushroom, which are highly toxic. They produce amatoxins which are slow but deadly poisons. Amatoxins enter cells then bind and incapacitate vital enzymes; this stops the synthesis of protein and causes cells to die. The death of cells inhibits liver and kidney function and can cause fatal organ failure.
Some species of fungus, such as "magic mushrooms" have hallucinogenic properties if consumed. They contain psychoactive alkaloids, psilocin and psilocybin, which act upon the nervous system by interfering with the normal function of serotonin, a neurotransmitter hormone which occurs in both plants and animals. Serotonin is involved in the transmission of nerve impulses and its production effects many physical aspects of an organism including body temperature, digestion, learning, memory, anxiety, mood, appetite, emotion and sleep. In humans it is associated with a happy feeling and like many anti depressant, antipsychotic and psychedelic drugs," magic mushrooms" work by altering or mimicking serotonin levels.