The parasite, spotted by a Portuguese biologist in a millipede, was named Troglomyces twitteri.
Portuguese biologist Ana Sofia Reboleira, an associate professor at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, was just checking her Twitter when a photo shared by American scientist Derek Hennen, from Virginia Tech, caught her eye.
What appeared to be just another image of an ordinary millipede was, in fact, her new object of study. Not the animal, exactly, but the little white dots on part of its body (circled in red in the image above).
“I could see something looking like fungi on the surface of the millipede. Until then, these fungi had never been found on American millipedes. So, I went to my colleague and showed him the image. That’s when we ran down to the museum’s collections and began digging,” said Ana Sofia Reboleira, in a statement.
While searching the museum’s collection, the researchers observed the same mark on other North American worm specimens – something that had never been documented before. The finding confirmed the existence of a new species of the order Laboulbeniales, still little known, but which includes a series of parasitic fungi that attack mainly insects and millipedes.
“Because of our vast museum collection, it was relatively easy to confirm that we were indeed looking at an entirely new species for science,” said Reboleira. “This demonstrates how valuable museum collections are. There is much more hiding in these collections than we know.” Specimens found at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN) in Paris, France, also helped the scientists to prove and describe the new species.
The order Laboulbeniales has about 30 species of fungi that attack millipedes, most of which were only discovered after 2014.
These parasitic fungi usually live outside the host. In the image above, for example, we can see fungi attacking the reproductive organs of a millipede. In general, they are able to pierce the hosts’ outer layer using a special suction structure, through which they can feed while projecting the other part of their body outward.
In honor of the social network where Reboleira found the photo of the fungus, the new species was called Troglomyces twitteri. According to the scientists, this is the first time that a new species has been discovered on Twitter.
“It highlights the importance of these platforms for sharing research – and thereby being able to achieve new results,” said Reboleira. “I hope that it will motivate professional and amateur researchers to share more data via social media.”
The article about the discovery was published last Thursday (14), in the journal MycoKeys, and also had the participation of biologist Sergi Santamaria, from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, in Spain.