Believe it or not, fungus is pretty fascinating. One category in particular is interesting because it has the ability to adapt to a multitude of environments, is harmful to some individual members of the animal kingdom and not others, can choose to reproduce sexually or asexually, and can survive on both living and non-living hosts.
Zygomycetes are members of the phylum Zygomycota and are found literally around the world. With more than 800 species of Zygomycetes fungi, they can be found on everything from animal abrasions to common white bread.
One of the most unique characteristics of zygomycetes is the ability to reproduce either sexually by the combination of two spores, or asexually, like most other fungi. This method of reproduction can depend on a number of factors, including host and food supply, water conditions, and more.
There are several orders of zygomycetes, which include dimargaritales, endogonales, kickxellales, mortierellales, mucorales, and zoopagales. Each order has its own species list within the order, and some have only a few species while others have multitudes. Each order has its own uniquely identifying characteristics, habitats, and behaviors.
The common black mold Rhizopus stolonifer is the household mold that many unlucky consumers find infecting the last few pieces of bread in an open bag. That's because the spores landed in the bag or were carried in by human contact with the loaf, and then thrived in the moist environment of a plastic wrapped, yeast-based food source.
While many different varieties of fungus can run the spectrum from completely innocuous to actively helpful, such as the mold that produces penicillin, zygomycetes also have their own spectrum of how harmful they are to other plants and animals. Humans who are susceptible to diseases caused by zygomycetes tend to already have a pre-existing condition that makes an infection more likely. Some of these conditions include diabetes, compromised immune systems, and the need for treatments that include prednisone, iron chelation, and more. Zygomycetes are responsible for some forms of sinusitis, head, facial, and sinus infections, and even gastrointestinal infections, to name a few. Zygomycetes can also cause life threatening infections in dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals.