Scientists have discovered a colorful new species of mushroom in the rainforest of Borneo and named it after a popular cartoon character: SpongeBob SquarePants.
Spongiforma squarepantsii was discovered in 2010 in the Lambir Hills in Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is bright orange and smells “vaguely fruity or strongly musty,” according to San Francisco State University researcher Dennis Desjardin who, together with colleagues, describes the species in the journal Mycologia.
The species is unusual for more than its name however — there is only one other species in the Spongiforma genus. But that species differs in color and odor.
Both species however lack the cap and stem style typically associated with mushrooms.
Spongiforma squarepantsii is found in the forests of Borneo. Credit: Tom Bruns, U.C. Berkeley
“It’s just like a sponge with these big hollow holes,” Desjardin said in a statement. “When it’s wet and moist and fresh, you can wring water out of it and it will spring back to its original size. Most mushrooms don’t do that.”
Desjardin says there remain many more fungi species to be discovered.
“Most of these are very cryptic, molds and little things, most of them are not mushrooms,” he said.
“We go to underexplored forests around the world, and we spend months at a time collecting all the mushrooms and focusing on various groups. And when we do that type of work, on average, anywhere from 25 percent to 30 percent of the species are new to science.”
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