Science

Biologist discovers new species of fungus while scrolling through Twitter

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on May 19, 2020

Biologist Ana Sofia Reboleira, who works at the Natural History Museum in Denmark, has discovered a new, bizarre species of fungus while scrolling through social media platform Twitter.

Reboleira discovered the species based on a photo of a North American millipede posted by Twitter user Derek Hennen, who is pursuing a PhD in Entomology at Virginia Tech.

She discovered the species after analysing the photo -- she found that the millipede in the picture had white dots on it. Hennen documented the entire discovery on his Twitter account.

“To everyone (including me!), it was as normal a millipede photo as you can get. But if you're @SReboleira, you have AMAZING vision and a preternatural talent for spying tiny fungi. She saw something no one else did!” he tweeted.

“But take a closer look and you can see tiny fungal bodies on the first ring of the millipede!” he further wrote.

Reboleira then began studying the fungi further with another colleague. They found the presence of the species on American millipedes as well. The existence of this particular species of fungus had never been documented before.

“She and her colleagues have been describing lots of these fungi from millipedes for the past decade, so they know what to look for. They had some specimens of these millipedes in natural history collections of Paris & Copenhagen, so they took a look in hopes of finding specimens!” Hennen tweeted.

“And find specimens they did! They were able to take the fungus off the millipede and describe them. Around this time, they contacted me for more info on the specimen I tweeted about, and I happily obliged.” he wrote.

“So now the fungus is known from two millipede species in the genus Cambala, and 3 spots from the US: in Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia (see map). Weirdly, they're all super close in longitude,” he further wrote.

The researchers have published a paper documenting the species and its discovery. According to a report by the Daily Mail, the species of fungus which looks like tiny larvae, is quite unique. The fungi live outside its host organisms and are even found on reproductive organs.

As this particular species was discovered by the biologist while scrolling through Twitter, the researchers have named the species after the platform.

“Fittingly, since the fungus was first noticed from my tweet, they've named the fungus in @Twitter's honour: Troglomyces twitter!” wrote Hennen.

“As far as we know, this is the first species discovered thanks to a Twitter collaboration, joining the New Species from Social Media Club! Other members: Facebook, Instagram, iNaturalist, and Flickr,” he said.

Published on May 19, 2020

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