The minuscule fungus Pilobolus crystallinus, which are known both as hat-throwers and dung-cannons, – grow, feed and breed on dung.

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How does Pilobolus crystallinus reproduce?

In order to reproduce, their spores are cast onto the grass, where they are swallowed by grazing mammals and then re-deposited on the pasture amid a steaming pile of nutritious manure.

The problem is that grazing mammals, quite understandably, tend to avoid excrement when choosing which patch of grass to eat. So the hat-throwers have evolved a spectacular way of projecting their offspring far and wide.

How fast is Pilobolus crystallinus?

The spores develop in a microscopic bundle that sits atop a fluid-filled bladder on a stalk. The bladder expands until the internal pressure causes it to squirt out its contents in a powerful jet, propelling the spores away at speeds of up to 90kph.

Even more impressive is that they reach their top speed in just a few millionths of a second – a rate of acceleration exceeding that of a bullet shot from an AK-47 rifle. Even though the fungi rarely reaches 5cm in height, this small organism can project its spores up to 200m away.

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Main image: Pilobolus crystallinus © Sava Krstic (sava) at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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