KEY POINTS

  • The fungus was first observed in a millipede photo that was shared on Twitter
  • They named the fungus T. twitteri after the social media site where it was first observed
  • Researchers noted the increasing contribution of social media to research

A team of researchers discovered a new species of fungus thanks to a photo shared on Twitter. According to the team, their discovery highlights the increasing role of social media in research.

The new species is now a part of the Laboulbeniales order of fungi, and the researchers named it Troglomyces twitteri after the social media site in which it was first observed.

The researchers' discovery began when biologist and associate professor Ana Sofia Reboleira of the University of Copenhagen's Natural History Museum of Denmark observed something rather odd about a photo of a millipede that was shared on Twitter on Oct. 31, 2018.

"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 news release. "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."

Upon scouring the museum's collections, Reboleira and her colleagues discovered other specimen of American millipedes with the same undocumented fungus, confirming the one on the image was a previously undocumented species.

According to the researchers, the discovery showed social media's increasing contributions to research.

"There is an increasing interplay between research and social media platforms, and many scientists use Twitter to promote and share research, a phenomenon also promoted by scientific publisher companies," the researchers wrote in their study. "To our knowledge, this is the first time that a new species for science has been discovered on Twitter, as a result of a casual observation of a photo shared by a colleague. This, again, emphasizes the importance of such platforms for sharing research and making new discoveries."

The T. twitteri adds to the list of Laboulbeniales species associated with millipedes, and marks the first species to be associated with the American millipede. The other species were collected from places such as Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

According to the researchers, the number of Laboulbeniales species associated with millipedes has significantly increased in recent years. Compared to the time before 2014 when there were only eight species associated with millipedes, there are now 30. 

"Laboulbeniales have been long neglected both by mycologists and entomologists," the researchers wrote. "The reason may be that entomologists are often unaware of their presence in part due to their small size and the lack of collaboration between entomologists and mycologists that have less access to the hosts on which these fungi depend."

Thanks to social media, however, a simple millipede photo turned out to be a significant discovery.

Reboleira also noted the discovery was made possible because of their access to the Natural History Museum of Denmark's vast entomological collection, which is one of the world's largest.

Twitter Twitter home page on a tablet. Photo: Pixabay