The types of fungi and their characteristic species

Fungi can be classified into several types: yeasts, molds, mushrooms, truffles, dermatophytes i lichens.

Fungi belong to the kingdom fungi or Eumycota. They are heterotrophic eukaryotic organisms that absorb their food from the external environment.

It is estimated that there are more than one million species of fungi on planet Earth and they are an important part of the terrestrial biome. Below we present the different types of known fungi.


electron microscopy of bread yeast Saccharomyces
Microscopic image of yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae showing the budding points.

Yeasts are frequently unicellular and microscopic. There are more than 500 species of yeast discovered in nature.

Yeasts generally reproduce by fission or budding. This type of reproduction is asexual, producing a daughter cell with the same genetic material as the mother cell.

A type of yeast of great economic importance is the Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used since ancient times for the production of bread, beer and wine. Among the yeasts there are also pathogenic agents, such as Candida albicanspathogen causing candidiasis in humans.

Some fungi pathogenic to humans, such as Hystoplasma capsulatum and the Blastomyces dermatitidisthey appear as yeasts in human tissue, while they are filamentous in laboratory cultures.


mold aspergillus parasiticus mold growing in culture plate
Aspergillus parasiticus in culture plate.

Molds are very common fungi, distributed all over the world. Its body is characterized by forming threads or filaments in the form of a tube, which is known as mycelium. They reproduce by means of spores, which are easily spread through the air.

They are of great interest, both for their usefulness and for the problems they entail. Blue cheeses owe their color and taste to different species of the genus Penicilliumfor example the P. roqueforti in Roquefort cheese.

Many molds yield drugs that have been a major advance in medicine. This is the case of Penicillium chrysogenumthe penicillin producing fungus, and the Aspergillus terreuswhich produces lovastatin (medicine to lower cholesterol).

Molds are also responsible for great loss of food, such as bread and fruit mold.


Boletus edulis edible mushroom agaricals basidiomycota
Boletus edulisforest mushroom, also known as porcini.

The term “mushroom” is popularly applied to the fruiting bodies of fungi in the subphylum Agaricomycotina, in the order Basidiomycota. The fruiting body of mushrooms is characterized by having a foot or thallus and a hat or parasol. These develop from a mycelium that spreads on the ground. These bodies are built by hyphae.

Many mushrooms form associations with tree roots. This association is known as mycorrhiza. For example, the Boletus edulis forms mycorrhizae with conifers.

Edible mushrooms

types of edible mushrooms shiitake and pleurotus
The most commercialized edible fungi are mushrooms (Agaricus brunnescens), shiitake (Lentinula eodes) and the oyster mushroom (Pleorotus ostreatus).

Within mushrooms we find some species that can be cultivated under specific conditions. This facilitates its commercialization and distribution. The most famous are mushrooms (Agaricus brunnescens), shiitake (Lentinula eodes) and the oyster mushroom (Pleorotus ostreatus).

Hallucinogenic mushrooms

species of hallucinogenic fungi
Hallucinogenic mushroom species.

Some ancient civilizations discovered hallucinogenic properties in certain types of mushrooms, which they began to use for spiritual rituals. The most used species belong to the genera psilocybe, know i Panaleolus. These mushrooms are also known as flying mushrooms, because of the sensation they cause when consuming them.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms produce their effects through the active ingredients psilocybin and psilocin, derived alkaloids related to the neurotransmitter serotonin.

poisonous fungi

poisonous mushrooms Amanita phalloides Galerina marginata Gyromitra esculenta
Pictures of poisonous mushrooms.

Many of the mushrooms that grow wild in forests have harmful effects when ingested. Amanita phalloides i Galerina marginata they have toxins called amanitins that are lethal in very small doses.

The correct identification of edible wild mushrooms is very important. For example, the Morel esculenta (edible mushroom) can easily be confused with the Gyromitra esculentaresponsible for 2 to 4% of fatal fungal poisonings.


Tuber melanosporum truffle known as black diamond
The truffle known as “black diamond” belongs to the species Tuber melanosporum.

Truffles belong to the Tuberaceae family, a family of fungi where the fruiting body is hypogeous, that is, it grows underground. They form mycorrhizae with trees and shrubs. The smell and taste of the fruiting bodies attract animals that dig them up, so dogs and pigs are used to collect them.

The gender Tuber concentrates around 100 species. Among these are truffles that are highly appreciated in gastronomy, such as Tuber aestivum or the summer truffle and the Tuber melanosporumthe black diamond


A mycosis is an infection by a fungus. Most mycoses of the skin are caused by dermatophytes, fungi capable of degrading keratin.

The species responsible for most skin mycoses are Epidermophyton floccosum, Trichophyton rubrum i Microsporum audouinii.


Cladonia coccifera lichen
Lichen of the species Cladonia coccifera. (Credit: S.Rae, Flickr)

Lichens are a special type of organism, formed by the symbiosis of a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium. The fungus provides the support for the algae to grow while it photosynthesizes and provides carbohydrates to the fungus.

Most lichens are 95% fungus (or mycobiont) and it is estimated that there are more than 25 thousand species. Among these we can mention Icmadophila ericetorum, Cladonia coccifera and the oak bark, Punctelia perrenticulata.

You may also be interested in seeing:


Cepero, MC et al. (2012) Fungal biology. University of the Andes. Uniandes editions. Bogotá

Kendrick, B. (2017) The Fifth Kingdom. An Introduction to Mycology 4 ed. Hackett Publishing Co USA.

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