Fungal Farming

Fungal farming is not limited to humans growing mushroom, but the insect world also partake. Some social insects have taken up farming as a healthy occupation, which keeps them all fed. Some ants herd and milk aphids, moving them around and protecting them as good husbandry demands.

Fungal farming is a more popular enterprise, but it usually demands heavy levels of cooperation in collecting materials and managing the fungal farms. It is therefore unusual to find a non-social insect which is a fungal farmer.

Specifically, Toki et al have been checking out the lifestyle choices of the lizard beetle Doubledaya bucculenta who are solitary creatures, but are also keen fungal farmers (1). They have a very different strategy from the large fungal farms found in say a leaf cutters nest for example. In contrast, they work with the concept that small is beautiful and they are quite successful in keeping their kids fed.

They bore a hole in a bamboo stem and deposit an egg, but they are very busy parents and don’t have time to tend, turn and fuss over their offspring. So the also inject the spores of a specific fungus and seal the hole. By the time the egg hatches a goodly crop of fungus is growing and the larvae can grow in seclusion with its own personal garden.

The fungus of choice is Wickerhammomyces anomalus and this symbiotic relationship (perhaps mutualism is better) has been going on for a very long time. Interesting that many of us like to beetle around in our own little plots without feeling the need to become farmers.


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