Both parallel fermentations with Aspergillus awamori (CBS 115.52) and a literature study on several fungi have been carried out to determine a relation between fungal morphology and agitation intensity. The studied parameters include hyphal length, pellet size, surface structure or so-called hairy length of pellets, and dry mass per-wet-pellet volume at different specific energy dissipation rates. The literature data from different strains, different fermenters, and different cultivation conditions can be summarized to say that the main mean hyphal length is proportional to the specific energy dissipation rate according to a power function with an exponent of -0.25 +/- 0.08. Fermentations with identical inocula showed that pellet size was also a function of the specific energy dissipation rate and proportional to the specific energy dissipation rate to an exponent of -0.16 +/- 0.03. Based on the experimental observations, we propose the following mechanism of pellet damage during submerged cultivation in stirred fermenters. Interaction between mechanical forces and pellets results in the hyphal chip-off from the pellet outer zone instead of the breakup of pellets. By this mechanism, the extension of the hyphae or hair from pellets is restricted so that the size of pellets is related to the specific energy dissipation rate. Hyphae chipped off from pellets contribute free filamentous mycelia and reseed their growth. So the fraction of filamentous mycelial mass in the total biomass is related to the specific energy dissipation rate as well.To describe the surface morphology of pellets, the hyphal length in the outer zone of pellets or the so-called hairy length was measured in this study. A theoretical relation of the hairy length with the specific energy dissipation rate was derived. This relation matched the measured data well. It was found that the porosity of pellets showed an inverse relationship with the specific energy dissipation rate and that the dry biomass per-wet-pellet volume increased with the specific energy dissipation rates. This means that the tensile strength of pellets increased with the increase of specific energy dissipation rate. The assumption of a constant tensile strength, which is often used in literature, is then not valid for the derivation of the relation between pellet size and specific energy dissipation rate. The fraction of free filamentous mycelia in the total biomass appeared to be a function of the specific energy dissipation in stirred bioreactors. (c) 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Biotechnol Bioeng 55: 715-726, 1997.