If you thought humans were going to be the first species invaded by mushrooms (thanks to The Last of Us for that recurring nightmare), we’re sorry to tell you that our amphibious friends appear to have pipped us to the post. In what’s thought to be the first documented case, researchers have discovered a live frog with a mushroom growing out of its side.
The discovery was made in a small pond in the foothills of the Kudremukha Ranges, India, by hobbyist naturalist Chinmay Maliye and Lohit Y.T, a wetlands specialist from WWF India. There, perched on a twig, the team found a Rao’s Intermediate Golden-backed frog (Indosylvirana intermedia) with a small, grey mushroom sprouting from its left flank.
“To the best of our knowledge, never has a mushroom sprouting from the flank of a live frog been documented,” the team writes in a report documenting the finding.
Consultation with mycologists suggested that the mini mushroom was a Mycena species, also known as a bonnet mushroom. Often considered saprotrophic organisms, Mycena are commonly found living off decayed organic matter.
Considering that, quite how the mushroom managed to get into the frog remains unclear. Frogs and fungi are often found near each other, well-adapted to living in moist environments, but the proximity seen here somewhat takes the biscuit. Frog skin is normally pretty good at keeping invaders out, so experts think something like an injury or an infection may have inadvertently let it in.
“I would guess that this is a purely superficial skin infection with Mycena,” said mycologist Cristoffer Bugge Harder, speaking to Forbes. “Those can be sustained over a long time, as most fungal skin infections in humans.”
Harder had previously discovered that Mycena were not just restricted to living off dead plant hosts as previously thought, but could also invade the roots of living plants. With the discovery of it sprouting on a frog, and no previous documentation of a mushroom on a living animal host, it points to the mushroom’s adaptability. “If there ever was a mushroom genus that could opportunistically do this, Mycena would be a very good guess,” said Harder, although it’s unlikely to do the same in humans.
As for the fate of the frog, we’ll probably never know. “The frog was not collected, so no prognosis is possible,” write the authors. It was alive and moving at the time though, so it seems fairly unlikely it’s gone zombie mode on its fellow frogs.
Wherever mushroom frog may be, it’s definitely an un-spore-gettable case.
The report is published in Reptiles & Amphibians.