Identifying fungi

Fly agaric mushroom
Find fairytale toadstools in the forest (Photo: WTML)

You’ll find all sorts of weird and wonderful things lurking in the woods at the moment – amethyst deceivers, angel’s bonnets and dead man’s fingers, to name but a few. They’re all fungi of course! And at this time of year, you’ll find toadstools and other fungi sprouting everywhere – in grass and dead leaves, on tree trunks and in piles of rotting wood. So why not head outside and have a go at identifying fungi with our fungi ID sheet? Just remember that some species are very poisonous so you should look but not touch!

Boy looking at fungi through a magnifying glass
Hunt for fungi in the forest (Photo: WTML/Michael Heffernan)

What are fungi?

The things you see above ground are the ‘fruiting bodies’ of the fungus, a bit like the flowers of a plant. The fungus itself is made up of a web of tiny threads called mycelia that live under the ground. The UK has many thousands of types of fungi, but only about 3,000 that are big enough to see.

Fungi feed on dead plants and animals and turn them into food that other plants can use to grow.

Dead man's fingers fungi
Fungi have weird names - like dead man's fingers! (Photo: WTML/Amy Lewis)

Fungi names

Lots of fungi names give you a pretty good idea of what they look like – the hedgehog fungus has little spines underneath the cap, the turkey tail fungus is shaped like a multicoloured fan, and the jelly ear looks just like a tree has grown some ears!

Some names are very imaginative too, such as the elfin saddle, crystal brain and collared earthstar. Why not try to think up some equally creative new names for the fungi you find?

What eats fungi?

Lots of animals find fungi quite yummy so you’ll probably come across quite a few that have been nibbled. Badgers, deer, rabbits, mice, squirrels, and a variety of minibeasts, slugs and snails all like to eat fungi. In fact, deer, rabbits and slugs can even eat poisonous mushrooms like the fly agaric without getting sick.

The truffle, a type of fungus that grows underground, is particularly tasty and is served in very posh restaurants. Pigs love them too and are very good and sniffing them out, so people have used pigs for truffle-hunting for hundreds of years. More recently, they’ve been training dogs to do it instead though, as the greedy hogs gobble up too many of the truffles themselves!

Fungi facts

  • Ever wondered why we say ‘fungi’ instead of ‘funguses’? ‘Fungi’ is a Latin word so you make it plural by adding an ‘i’. Some people think we should follow English rules though so they say ‘funguses’ – that’s okay too.
  • We use fungi for all sorts of things, such as to make medicines, to bake bread and even to take the bitter taste out of chocolate!

You can find out more on our fascinating fungi facts blog.

Found any amazing fungi? Don’t forget to post your pictures on our Facebook page, or on Instagram or Twitter using #NatureDetectives.

Which fungi have you spotted?

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