Fungus/Animal Mutualism


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 Photo shows an ant carrying a leaf over its head.
Leaf-cutter ant. A leaf-cutter ant transports a leaf that will feed a farmed fungus. (credit: Scott Bauer, USDA-ARS)

OpenStax Biology 2e

Fungi have evolved mutualisms with numerous insects in Phylum Arthropoda: joint-legged invertebrates with a chitinous exoskeleton. Arthropods depend on the fungus for protection from predators and pathogens, while the fungus obtains nutrients and a way to disseminate spores into new environments. The association between species of Basidiomycota and scale insects is one example. The fungal mycelium covers and protects the insect colonies. The scale insects foster a flow of nutrients from the parasitized plant to the fungus.

In a second example, leaf-cutter ants of Central and South America literally farm fungi. They cut disks of leaves from plants and pile them up in subterranean gardens. Fungi are cultivated in these disk gardens, digesting the cellulose in the leaves that the ants cannot break down. Once smaller sugar molecules are produced and consumed by the fungi, the fungi in turn become a meal for the ants. The insects also patrol their garden, preying on competing fungi. Both ants and fungi benefit from this mutualistic association. The fungus receives a steady supply of leaves and freedom from competition, while the ants feed on the fungi they cultivate.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: