Discovering a new species on Twitter

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Image by Sergi Santamaria, Henrik Enghoff, Ana Sofia Reboleira (2020) (CC BY 4.0)

Ana Sofia Reboleira, a biologist and associate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark, was one-day scrolling through Twitter when she came across a photo of a North American millipede shared by a colleague based at Virginia Tech. In the photo, she spotted several tiny dots on the surface of the millipede; she instantly recognised them as a type of fungi. After digging through the samples of North American millipedes in the Natural History Museum of Denmark with her colleague Henrik Enghoff, they discovered a new species of parasitic fungus which had never before been documented.

The new species belongs to the order known as Laboulbeniales- tiny fungi that attack insects. There are approximately 1260 species of Laboulbeniales, of which approximately 30 of them are parasites of millipedes. After its discovery, the new species was given its scientific name- Troglomyces twitteri. They belong to their own class, as they are ectoparasites rather than endoparasites, meaning they live on the outside of the host- or in this case, on the reproductive organs of millipedes. Reboleira believes there are a large number of species still left to be discovered, and she is an expert on their biology. She is researching them in the hope of understanding more about the interactions between hosts and parasites, which could provide an insight into treating human parasitic diseases.

The researchers believe that this demonstrates the power of social media in scientific collaboration. This is the first time that a species has been discovered on Twitter but, with continued sharing of resources and collaboration of professional and amateur researchers, social media will begin to play a bigger role in research. It also highlights the importance of museum collections, as the specimens preserved in their Natural History Museum confirmed the existence of the new species. She believes more hidden species are hiding in museums, and that social media may again provide the key to discovery.

The paper detailing the new species was published in Myco Keys which is dedicated to fungal research, and can be read here.

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