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Fungus-Like Protists: Characteristics & Examples

Anne Kamiya, Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer
  • Author
    Anne Kamiya

    Anne has experience in science research and writing. She has a graduate degree in nutrition (gut microbiome & nutritional microbiology) and undergraduate degrees in microbiology (immunology & medical microbiology) and English (myth & folklore). She has also worked as an ocean & Earth science educator.

  • Instructor
    Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

    Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has been teaching math for over 9 years. Amy has worked with students at all levels from those with special needs to those that are gifted.

Explore examples of fungus-like protists and understand how they are classified. Learn about important fungus-like protists characteristics. Updated: 07/02/2022

Table of Contents


What are Fungus-Like Protists?

Within the six kingdoms, there is an outlier from Archaea, Bacteria, Animalia, Fungi, and Plantae. Protista are a diverse collection of single and multicellular eukaryotic organisms that much resemble, but are otherwise unlike, organisms from the other eukaryotic kingdoms. Animal-like protists resemble animals, while plant-like protists resemble plants, but both are not animals or plants. What are fungus-like protists? Fungus-like protists function ecologically as decomposers just like fungi and visibly resemble fungi, but are not true fungi

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How are Fungus-Like Protists Classified?

Why is a protozoan considered animal-like, plant-like, or fungus-like, if they are not classified as plants, animals, or fungi? Before genetic sequencing methods were used to sort and organize phylogenetic ranks, protists were categorized based on shared traits with other organisms. Initially, scientists thought fungus-like protists were a type of fungus because, like fungi, they produce spores, are heterotrophs, and subsist on decaying organic matter for food. How are fungus-like protists classified now? Like other protists, fungus-like protists are all classified in the kingdom Protista.

Fungus-Like Protists Characteristics

Protists can also be classified based on their characteristics, for instance, how they obtain food from the environment. Plant-like protists are autotrophs, which means they make their own food via photosynthesis. Animal-like protists are heterotrophs, which means they obtain their food from eating other organisms. Fungus-like protists are also heterotrophic, but some may also be osmotrophic and absorb their nutrients, like true fungi.

So, which protist exhibits both animal-like and plant-like characteristics? Mixotrophs are a type of protist that can get their food from either sunlight or by eating other organisms and are both heterotrophic, like animals, and autotrophic, like plants. None of the fungus-like protists are mixotrophic, however. Fungus-like protists' characteristics and common traits include:

  • Heterotrophic
  • May be osmotrophic, parasitic, or phagocytic
  • Unicellular or acellular
  • Produce spores
  • Have hyphae
  • Cell walls made of cellulose
  • Some are plant pathogens

What are the Types of Fungus-Like Protists?

Fungus-like protists are now classified in the kingdom Protista, not Fungi. Although heterotrophic, like animals, fungus-like protists are not classified as animal-like because their characteristics more closely resemble fungi, not animals. So, which organism is an animal-like protist in that case? An example of an animal-like protist is an amoeba. Amoebas are predatory single-celled eukaryotes that eat smaller organisms like bacteria. They behave a lot like tiny animals that live in the water and swim around looking for food. Fungus-like protists do not behave like animals but do behave a lot like true fungi. They are categorized into three types. What are the 3 types of fungus-like protists?

  • Acellular slime molds
  • Cellular slime molds
  • Water molds

Water molds are distinct from fungi because their cell walls are made of cellulose, not chitin. They live in aquatic or moist environments, and are responsible for some types of bathroom mildew, while others may be parasitic on animals or plants. Water molds also include several disease-causing plant pathogens called downy mildews. Downy mildews are particularly harmful to crop plants, including herbs, grapes, berries, pumpkin, squashes, and cucumbers. They cause rot and damage to leaves, stems, and branches, and eventually impact the whole plant.

The photograph depicts an oomycete water mold plant pathogen growing on papaya.

Photograph of fuzzy white water mold growing on papaya.

Slime molds live on vegetation, detritus, or wood, and are further characterized as either acellular or cellular. The cellular slime molds are comprised of numerous single-celled organisms that clump up and live together in massive colonies. The acellular, or plasmodial slime molds, are single-celled protists that clump and fuse to form a massive multinucleated cell. In other words, as plasmodial slime molds come together, they lose their individual identities as their nuclei become part of a massive fusion of numerous other slime molds that all share the space of one massive cell. Slime molds are different than fungi in this respect because they are multinucleated and lack cell walls in their vegetative state.

The photograph depicts a myxomycete slime mold growing on vegetation.

Photograph of yellow slime mold clusters growing among green vegetation.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why are they called fungus-like protists?

Fungus-like protists are said to be like fungi because they are heterotrophic and primarily function as decomposers in various ecosystems. However, although some fungus-like protists are saprophytes, others may be parasitic or engulf food by phagocytosis.

Are fungus-like protists decomposers?

Fungus-like protists include decomposers that serve similar functions in environmental food webs as fungi, which are also decomposers. However, there are different ways that fungus-like protists may obtain their energy heterotrophically, such as by phagocytosis or saprophytically.

What are the three types of fungus-like protists?

The fungus-like protists can be categorized into three groups that include water and slime molds. These groups include the water molds, the acellular slime molds, and the cellular slime molds.

What are three characteristics of fungus-like protists?

Fungus-like protists are all heterotrophic, which means they obtain food from other living organisms. They are also eukaryotes, which means they have a nucleus and many organelles. Fungus-like protists also produce spores when they reproduce.

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