are fungi heterotrophic or autotrophic

Are fungi heterotrophic or autotrophic? You can find various species of fungi around you, and they play a significant role in different ecosystems.

But, as living being, fungi also need food to survive, and how it manages to acquire it answers, “are fungi heterotrophs or autotrophs?”

So, what do you think?

Does it look like fungi are equipped with the necessary tools to make their own food? Probably not!

Unlike plants, fungi cannot make their own food, which is why a fungus is categorized as a heterotrophic organism. 

Learning about The Most Popular Types of Fungi

There are thousands of species of fungi that have been recognized, and scientists are still finding new ones.

popular types of fungi

There is a large variety of fungi, each with its own unique properties and uses in areas as diverse as:

  • Agriculture
  • Medicine
  • Industry

But, different types are utilized in different ways. And some of the most common types of fungi include the following: 


Mushrooms are a well-known fungus that is commonly used in cooking.

And some of the most common edible varieties include:

  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Button mushrooms
  • Oyster mushrooms
  • Portobello mushrooms

The medicinal characteristics of mushrooms include their ability to protect cells from free radical damage, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the immune system. 


yeasts are a type of fungus

Yeasts are a type of fungus that is used in baking, brewing, etc.

Bread rises because yeasts digest sugars and release carbon dioxide gas and alcohol during the fermentation process.

Interestingly, beer and wine undergo the same process. 


There are numerous species of the genus Penicillium, which are utilized in the making of cheeses including Roquefort and blue cheese.

Fact: The antibiotic penicillin, which had a profound impact on 20th-century medicine, is derived from penicillium. 


Many species of the genus Aspergillus are important in the manufacturing of both edible and non-edible items.

Soy sauce and sake, for instance, rely on the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, whereas citric acid is made with the help of Aspergillus niger


truffles is a type of fungi

The earthy, rich flavor of truffles has made them a gourmet favorite for centuries.

Since truffles are usually hidden beneath the earth, skilled dogs or pigs are used in the hunting process. 


Cordyceps is a fungus that lives on the bodies of insects and other arthropods.

Precisely, it is a parasite-sounding fungus utilized in traditional medicine for its purported anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing, and antioxidant effects. 

Are Fungi Heterotrophic or Autotrophic?

fungi are considered heterotrophs

Fungi are considered heterotrophs because, unlike autotrophic organisms like plants, they cannot manufacture their own food through photosynthesis.

Fungal organisms can survive by employing enzymes to decompose the organic substances around them.

To facilitate uptake across the fungal cell wall, these enzymes catalyze the hydrolysis of complex organic substances, such as:

  • Proteins
  • Carbs
  • Lipids

This is called “external digestion,” and it works in a way that is quite similar to how animals digest food. 

How Do Fungi Get Food for Survival?

Fungi can receive nutrition from both decomposing organic substances and living hosts.

Some fungi are parasites, which means they feed off of other species at the expense of their host.

For instance, the fungus that causes an athlete’s foot feeds off dead skin cells on the feet.

disease athlete's foot

In contrast, certain fungi partner up with autotrophic organisms like algae or cyanobacteria to produce a mutually beneficial relationship.

Fungal partners safeguard their photosynthetic counterparts from environmental threats, while their plant counterparts supply the fungi with organic matter. 

Lichens, which are created by a fungus and algae, are the most well-known example of this sort of symbiosis. 

Other Reasons to Tag Fungi as Heterotrophic Organisms

A big reason why the fungus is considered heterotrophic organism is that it is not capable of photosynthesis because it lacks chloroplasts.

The chloroplasts store chlorophyll, which is responsible for absorbing sunlight and transforming it into usable energy.

Since they lack chloroplasts, fungi are unable to generate their own energy via photosynthesis and must instead get fuel from external sources.

To add to the list of characteristics that set fungi apart as heterotrophs, their cell walls are composed of chitin.

Fungal cell walls are supported structurally by chitin, a complex polymer. Fungi, unlike plants, are unable to take in nutrients via cell walls because chitin is impermeable to big molecules.

Fact: Fungi release enzymes that decompose organic substances into molecules that can be taken in through their cell wall for energy.

The Importance of heterotrophic Fungi in the Ecosystem

importance of heterotrophic fungi

Heterotrophic fungi play a crucial role as decomposers, reintroducing nutrients to the ecosystem by breaking down decaying organic materials.

Fungi are essential because without them, nutrients in dead organic materials would rot and become inaccessible to living things. 

Role in Establishing a Symbiotic Connection

Heterotrophic fungi are vital members of symbiotic relationships, in addition to their decomposer activities.

Mycorrhizae are a type of symbiotic connection between fungi and plant roots.

To help plants get nutrients from the soil, mycorrhizal fungi invade plant roots and spread out into the soil as a network of hyphae.

The plant gives the fungus sugars that it has synthesized through photosynthesis in exchange. 

Role in Digesting Foods in Animals

Many animals rely critically on the digestion-enhancing effects of heterotrophic fungus.

Many animals face trouble digesting cellulose, but some species of fungi have evolved enzymes that allow them to digest plant cell wall cellulose.

Fact: Fungi are a source of nutrients that are indigestible to most animals, but are essential for the survival of animals that consume them. 

Role in Providing Nutrients to Humans

Many creatures, including humans, rely heavily on fungi for sustenance.

Edible mushrooms come in many varieties and are a popular food item around the world because they are high in protein and other essential nutrients.

More than that, numerous fungal species make additional metabolites with therapeutic potential.

antibiotic penicillin

As an example, the fungus Penicillium is responsible for producing the antibiotic penicillin.

Similarly, numerous other fungal species create chemicals having anticancer, antifungal, and immunosuppressive effects.

Role in Understanding Environmental Changes

Heterotrophic fungi play a crucial role in gauging the state of the environment.

As a result of their sensitivity to environmental changes, such as climate change or pollution, shifts in fungal populations can be used as proxies for the state of the ecosystem as a whole.

Therefore, conserving an environment can be improved by learning more about the state of its fungus population through monitoring. 

Other Examples of Heterotrophic Organisms Besides Fungi

Other than fungi, there are many instances of heterotrophic creatures.

Heterotrophs are defined as organisms that obtain their nutrients and energy from sources other than themselves.

The list includes the vast majority of animals and many microorganisms. 

For instance: 


pollution affects fungi population

Heterotrophs, of which animals are the most well-known example, consume organic matter.

They feed on other species for sustenance and energy.

Humans, avian species, domesticated dogs and cats, marine life, and invertebrates are all examples of heterotrophic creatures


Some bacteria are autotrophs, meaning they can make their own food by photosynthesis.

However, the vast majority of bacteria are heterotrophs, meaning they must obtain their nutrition and energy from external sources.

A select group of microorganisms can decompose and metabolize simple organic compounds found in things like dead plants and animals. 


Single-celled organisms known as protozoa can be found in a broad variety of habitats, from soil and water to the interiors of various animals.

Several types of protozoa are heterotrophs, meaning they get their nutrition not from the sun but from eating other creatures, most commonly bacteria. 


parasites under microscope

The term “parasite” refers to any organism that lives on or within another and derives its nutrition and energy from its host.

In order to survive, many parasites must feed off of their host. Tapeworms, lice, fleas, and ticks are all examples of heterotrophic parasites. 


The term “saprophyte” refers to organisms that survive by decomposing other species.

Crucial to the breakdown of organic matter and the recycling of nutrients, they are an integral part of any healthy ecosystem.

Several fungi, bacteria, and protists are examples of saprophytes.

Fact: It is important to note that necrophilic fungi also play a role as saprotrophs, as they infect a living host, slowly killing it until only its dead tissues remain to be consumed. 


Are fungi heterotrophic or autotrophic? Fungi are classified as heterotrophs because they cannot sustain themselves by photosynthesis and instead must rely on ingesting dead or decaying organic substances.

Fungal life cycles include the decomposition of dead organic matter, nutrition acquisition through living hosts, and symbiosis with autotrophic species.

Moreover, fungi are also considered heterotrophs because they have no chloroplasts and have a chitin cell wall.