Actinomyces in the Tonsil

This is a "sulfur granule" of actinomyces in the tonsil.

The large pink mass on the right is a colony of actinomyces from deep in a tonsillar crypt. Actinomyces are anaerobic and microaerophilic bacteria. These organisms are filamentous, branching,gram-positive rods. Older microbiologists sometimes referred to actinomyces as fungi because of the were long like fungal hyphae. However, they are only about a tenth as wide. They normally reside in the human mouth, throat, large intestine, vagina, and the crevices between teeth and gums, especially underneath dental plaque.

Actinomyces is normal flora and is not transmitted from person to person. Actinomyces is not usually virulent, and the organisms reside as saprophytes in the body without producing disease. They usually cause problems only if they have the opportunity to grow on a surface away from oxygen. They stick to one another, and eventually can break loose as a mass that is too big to be engulfed by the body's defense cells.

Most tonsil debris is keratin, and many people "hack" this up as malodorous, soft, cheesy debris. You may also "hack up" an actinomyces colony -- it you do, it will be much harder than cheese, and more like a granule of sulfur from your chemistry lab.