Undergrad finds microscopic fungus resembling prehistoric marine reptile
When my undergraduate student Warre started his project in February studying microscopic fungal ectoparasites of bat flies, I knew that species discovery was possible. What I did not know is that he would find SUCH COOL SPECIES!
These fungi, members of the order Laboulbeniales, have been referred to as bizarre and otherworldly. Researchers have pondered their placement among other organisms for a long time. Were they parasitic worms? Red algal relatives? After many erroneous placements in many groups, both in and outside the fungal kingdom, we now know Laboulbeniales belong to the Ascomycota. The sister group of the group is still in question, but at least we now have a general idea of where they belong in the Tree of Life. Still, every so often, we find species of Laboulbeniales that confirm their being “otherworldly”.
A few years ago, we discovered a spectacular species in a century-old slide collection (Rossi et al. 2016). When we described Zodiomyces rhizophorus (named after the outgrowths that are formed, usually around the base of the thallus), we referred to it as fireworks under the microscope. It literally is a feast to look at it under the scope.
The past few weeks, my undergraduate student at Ghent University and I have been working on another bizarre-looking Laboulbeniales fungus, a species associated with Trichobius yunkeri bat flies in Panama. We are thinking to name it after Plesiosaurus, the genus of extinct marine reptiles that lived in the early Jurassic, with their long and slender neck and funny limbs for flippers. I’m going to let you decide for yourself whether or not the name is appropriately chosen: