Pilobolus crystallinus, "The Fung in the Dung" --in honor of Dr. Seuss' 102nd birthday

Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for March 2006

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by Tom Volk, with drawings by Dr. Kelly Collins, ©Copyright 2006

Pilobolus, The Fung in the Dung

Pilobolus, the Fung in the Dung

My sister and I were just down on the farm.
We stopped near a cow, but we meant her no harm.

We saw that old Bossy was eating some grass
when all of a sudden we smelled some bad gas.

We wondered what happened; we saw her tail droop.
We weren't so surprised when we saw Bossy poop:

Away to the meadow Bossy flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and googed on the grass.

We looked at the dung, and we saw a small fungus.
To the fungus, my sis and I sure looked humongous.

The fungus began to BS right away:
"What do y'all want? It's now my birthday!"

What a bolt from the blue to hear speech from a mold.
His words to us kids were more special than gold.

"Who are you?" we said. "Has the cat got your tongue?"
"I'm your really good friend; I'm the Fung in the Dung!

"My name is Pilobolus, I'm the hat thrower.
My lid I can flip just like a snow blower!

Here are some feces, they don't look like Reese's,
but they're eaten by me and all of my species.

We all belong to the Zygomycota--
a phylum of fungi, not a kind O'Toyota.

Now, you may turn up your big nose at this poop,
but for Fung in the Dung it's much better than soup.

But what can you do if you only eat poo?
There's not a big feast, like St. Louis Poo-Zoo.

The best way for fungus to get into dung
is to pass through cow's stomachs ('tho you have just one).

I run through its tummies, then through a big bowel.
I'm stuck into feces; oh wow, the smell's foul.

Our friend Bossy eats grass, and since she's a lass--
Oh, how can I say this without being crass?

Cows aren't so smart, they're as smart as a fart,
and they can't get their food at the Wal-of-the-Mart.

The cow eats the grass from the meadow, like s'mores,
away from her dung and my big lovely spores.

The cow chip for bossy is something to shun,
and so I've evolved my own small special gun.

My spores I can shoot, and it's like a small toot.
Keep list'ning my friends, you'll find it's a hoot.

My sporangium sits on my stalk like a hat
with a swelling below it; dude it's so phat!

When the water builds up inside of this vesicle.
Spores are shot off. Oh yes, oh yes-it's-cool

The vesicle aims my spores at the low sun.
Shooting so far, I'll get an earned run!

My vesicle acts like a lens that can focus.
I can do great physics, not just hocus pocus

My aim is quite good; I can have a good time.
My spores can hit targets the size of a dime

My sporangium shoots out at least seven meters.
Hooray for me-- I'm just 10 microliters!

My spores can be eaten by Bossy- it's true!
The smart cow will shy from her own # 2.

My offspring can pass through her stomachs once more,
before they come out in more poo on the floor."

My sis and I stared as the Fung finished talking,
but we had some questions; the fungus was balking.

"Would you, could you in a dog?"
"I would not, could not in a dog."

"Oh would you, could you in a fox?"
"I would not, could not in a fox.

I must only pass through a beast that eats grass,
Like a deer or a steer, or even an ass.

There's one other part to my glorious story:
I help out a worm, although that seems so gory.

A nematode climbs to the top of my spores.
It's shot off the same time-it's just like Star Wars!

The nematode helps me to digest the dung,
ascending my body, then my spring is sprung.

You should be so grateful for what I can do.
Without me, good friends, you'd be knee deep in poo."

We now understood Mr. Fungus's chronicle,
blessed with the lens that can act like a monocle.

The 'shroom that goes BOOM with the spores that go ZOOM.
He can throw his small hat to that side of the room.

We're thrilled that this fungus can shoot like a rocket.
So we took our Pilobolus home in our pocket.

The Fung in the Dung is a wonderful friend
to be kept in our room, will the fun never end?

We're glad he's so near, although he smells skanky.
We keep him around to digest Mr. Hankey.

We later found out about a dance troupe.
They're called Pilobolus, fungus in poop!

sing along with me! animation from www.sitevip.net/ gifs/music/ Fa-who, Forays, da-who, dor-aze,
     welcome fungus on this day.
Fa-who, Forays, da-who, dor-aze,
      welcome fungus, you decay.

Marsha Harbin, Dan Czederpiltz and Sean Westmoreland with a giant cow
Pilobolus in dung
Fung in the Dung shooting his hat Pilobolus has a vesicle that can act as a lens.  drawing from ARH Buller 1934.  Researches on Fungi Vol. 6
Fung in the Dung shooting its hat and shrinking back
a nematode named 'Thing1' hitches a ride

I hope you enjoyed this "anapestic tetrameter" poem about Pilobolus crystallinus and its important role in decaying dung. You can grow your own fungi at home if mom and dad let you keep dung in your room! Just put some fresh cow, horse, or deer dung in a glass or plastic jar with a little water, and a few days later Mr. Pilobolus may pay you a visit. I hope you'll enjoy your visitor.

...and of course, a Happy Birthday to Theodor Seuss Geisel, born March 2, 1904. The first book I read by myself was "Ten Apples up on Top." Thanks for all your wonderful books. You can read more about Dr. Seuss at the Seussentennial page.

Tom and Kelly on the Oregon coastThe "Fung in the Dung" illustrations are by Dr. Kelly Collins, one of my former mycology students and good friend, who now has her Ph.D. in Mycology from Oregon State University. Besides her mycology studies and her work in diagnostic plant pathology, Kelly is a very talented artist. One of my prized possessions is her morel drawing that hangs above my fireplace. Thanks Kelly!

Further reading on Pilobolus: Interview with a fungus by Diane Pleninger.

If you have anything to add, or if you have corrections, comments, or recommendations for future FotM's (or maybe you'd like to be co-author of a FotM?), please write to me at my email address

This page and other pages are © Copyright 2006 by Thomas J. Volk, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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