In my Twitter career, I’ve posted cute photos of my cat and messaged back and forth with most members of Spinal Tap. In her Twitter career, biologist Ana Sofia Reboleira discovered a new species of parasitic fungus. I need to step up my Twitter game.
Reboleira is with the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark. She spotted a photo of a millipede posted on Twitter by Derek Hennen, a doctoral student at Virginia Tech. Hennen runs a Twitter feed full of millipede images.
The millipede might look like a mini version of the alien from Alien to a casual viewer, but Reboleira saw beyond the obvious and noticed some intriguing dots on the arthropod. “I could see something looking like fungi on the surface of the millipede. Until then, these fungi had never been found on American millipedes,” Reboleira said in a University of Copenhagen release on Friday.
Hennen shared a Twitter thread recap of how the discovery got started. In 2018, he posted the original photo of the millipede, which hails from Ohio, as part of a promise to send millipede images via Twitter to people who had voted in the US midterm elections.
Reboleira went on a hunt to find the weird, previously undocumented fungus by searching through American millipede specimens kept at the Natural History Museum. “This confirmed the existence of a previously unknown species of Laboulbeniales — an order of tiny, bizarre and largely unknown fungal parasites that attack insects and millipedes,” the university said.
The researchers described the fungus, now appropriately named Troglomyces twitteri, in the journal MycoKeys. The fungus belongs to the order Laboulbeniales. It punctures the millipede’s shell so only half of the parasite protrudes. Laboulbeniales-fungi are still very mysterious, but scientists are working to better understand their biology and their relationships to their hosts.
Reboleira hopes more scientists will share their work on social media. “As far as we know, this is the first time that a new species has been discovered on Twitter,” she said. “It highlights the importance of these platforms for sharing research – and thereby being able to achieve new results.”
Hennen is on board. “To summarize: keep sharing your cool nature photos and pay attention to the details!” he tweeted.