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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Explained: A new species discovered on Twitter, named after Twitter

Meet Troglomyces twitteri, a fungus spotted on a Twitter image by a Denmark biologist. What is this species, and what is its relationship with millipedes?

Written by Kabir Firaque , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: May 16, 2020 3:46:32 pm
Troglomyces twitteri, MycoKeys, MycoKeys journal, North American millipede, Cambala annulata, Express Explained, Indian Express American millipede, male. Image tweeted on October 31, 2018 by Derek Hennen. The red circles indicate two thalli of Laboulbeniales. (Source: MycoKeys)

A new species has just been discovered — on Twitter. It’s a type of parasitic fungus, which researchers have described in the journal MycoKeys. Its name: Troglomyces twitteri.

How it turned up

Ana Sofia Reboleira, biologist and associate professor with the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark, was scrolling though Twitter when she stumbled upon a photo of a North American millipede (Cambala annulata). It had been posted in 2018 by entomologist Derek Hennen, now a PhD student at Virginia Tech, who was sending millipede photos to people who had tweeted at him that they had voted in the US midterm polls. This particular photo had been tweeted at entomology student Kendal Davis; the millipede was from Ohio.

“To everyone (including me!), it was as normal of a millipede photo as you can get. But if you’re @SReboleira [Ana Sofia Reboleira’s handle], you have AMAZING vision and a preternatural talent for spying tiny fungi. She saw something no one else did!” Hennen tweeted on Friday.

What Reboleira spotted was a few tiny dots. “I could see something looking like fungi on the surface of the millipede. Until then, these fungi had never been found on American millipedes,” she said in a statement released by the University of Copenhagen.

Search & discovery

Reboleira showed the image to her colleague Henrik Enghoff. Both of them then “ran down to the museum’s collections and began digging”, Reboleira said. The museum has a large collection of insects and millipedes.

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Reboleira and Enghoff found several specimens of the same fungus on a few of the American millipedes in the collection. These were fungi that had never before been documented before. Millipede specimens from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris helped confirm the discovery of the new species.

The research was conducted by Sergi Santamaria ( Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Enghoff and Reboleira, who tweeted on Wednesday: “Hi @Twitter you have a new species named after you.”

Troglomyces twitteri: What it’s like

Troglomyces twitteri belongs to an order called Laboulbeniales — tiny fungal parasites that attack insects and millipedes. look like tiny larvae. These fungi live on the outside of host organisms; in this case, on the reproductive organs of millipedes.

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Laboulbeniales were first discovered in the middle of the 19th century. Their taxonomic position was identified in detailed studies performed by Roland Thaxter at Harvard University, beginning in 1890. Thaxter described approximately 1260 species of these fungi (State of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry).

Of these, approximately 30 different species attack millipedes (University of Copenhagen). Most of these species were recently identified; Reboleira believes many more remain to be discovered.

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