The oldest known carnivorous fungus, unearthed in 100-million-year-old amber, apparently lassoed its worm prey with sticky loops. Modern carnivorous fungi are armed with constricting rings and other projections they use to trap prey, but scientists had been unsure of when these snares evolved. Amber from what once was a coastal tropical forest in southwestern France revealed fossilized fungi with their nematode quarry. The carnivores possessed branched filaments adorned with small rings plastered with tiny particles, suggesting that the rings were sticky. Several of the worms were located near rings, and their width roughly matchesthat of the loops, hinting that the nematodes served as prey. Once ensnared, the worms were devoured with infestation filaments, speculate scientists from Humboldt University of Berlin and elsewhere. The scientists suggest that carnivory in fungi is ancient in origin. Digest more in the December 14, 2007, Science.
This article was originally published with the title "Fungus Cowboys" in Scientific American 298, 2, 29 (February 2008)