Weird New Parasitic Fungus That Sucks Nutrition from Its Host Discovered on Twitter

A new type of parasitic fungus found by a keen-eyed scientist scrolling through Twitter has been named after the social network.

In 2018, in the run up to the U.S. midterm elections, Virginia Tech scientist Derek Hennen, was sending out photos of millipedes to people who voted, when one image caught the attention of a biology expert in Denmark.

Ana Sofia Reboleira, of the University of Copenhagen's Natural History Museum, had spotted something rather strange on the body of the seemingly-normal arthropod, a North American millipede that is officially known as Cambala annulata.

Reboleira noticed several small tiny dots on the creature, which led to the discovery of a mysterious type of fungi species that was previously undocumented.

Research, published in the journal MycoKeys, details the existence of what was found to be a species of Laboulbeniales—a fungal parasites that attack insects and millipedes. It was recorded on other American millipedes in the history museum's collection.

It has been given the Latin name, Troglomyces twitteri, after the social network.

"As far as we know this is the first time a new species has been discovered on Twitter," Reboleira said in a statement. "It highlights the importance of these platforms for sharing research—and thereby being able to achieve new results.

"I hope it will motivate professional and amateur researchers to share more data via social media. This is something that has been increasingly obvious during the coronavirus crisis... when so many are prevented from getting into the field."

According to the research team, which included Reboleira's colleague Henrik Enghoff, Laboulbeniales live on the outside of their host, in this case on the reproductive organs. They suck nutrition by piercing the outer shell with a "special suction structure."

Scientists know of roughly 30 different species of parasitic Laboulbeniales fungi that attack millipedes, with the majority having been discovered after 2014.

The team said specimens from the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHN) in Paris and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain aided the research.

Reflecting on the find, Hennen tweeted: "To everyone (including me!), it was as normal of a millipede photo as you can get. But if you're [Reboleira] you have amazing vision and preternatural talent for spying tiny fungi. She saw something no one else did!"

The study authors wrote: "The use of social media is now a considerable part of how humans interact and perceive the news of a changing world."

Echoing that stance, Reboleira agreed social media is now playing a big role in scientific discoveries—while helped along by museum collections, of course.

"Because of our vast... collection, it was relatively easy to confirm that we were indeed looking at an entirely new species," she said. "[It shows] how valuable museum collections are. There is much more hiding in these collections than we know."

Cambala annulata millipede
Cambala annulata, male. USA, Ohio, Adams County, West Union, Greene Township on 26 Jun 2014. Original of image shared on Twitter on 31 Oct 2018 by Derek Hennen. The red circles indicate two thalli of Laboulbeniales. D. Hennen/MycoKeys