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Strange and rubbery 'SpongeBob' mushroom discovered in Malaysia

June 16, 2011 - Washington

San Francisco State University researchers have discovered a new species of mushroom called Spongiforma squarepantsii, which look almost as strange as its cartoon namesake, in the forests of Borneo.

Shaped like a sea sponge, S. squarepantsii was found in 2010 in the Lambir Hills in Sarawak, Malaysia.

It is bright orange-although it can turn purple when sprinkled with a strong chemical base-and smells "vaguely fruity or strongly musty," according to researcher Dennis Desjardin and colleagues' description.

Under a scanning electron microscope, the spore-producing area of the fungus looks like a seafloor carpeted in tube sponges, which further convinced the researchers to name their find after the famous Bob.

The new species is only one of two species in the Spongiforma genus. The other species is found in central Thailand, and differs in color and odor.

Desjardin said Spongiforma are related to a group of mushrooms that includes the tasty porcini. But the genus sports an unusual look that is far from the expected cap and stem style.

"It's just like a sponge with these big hollow holes. 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," he explained.

In its humid home, Spongiforma has taken a different approach to keeping its spores wet.

"It's become gelatinous or rubbery. Its adaptation is to revive very quickly if it dries out, by absorbing very small amounts of moisture from the air," said Desjardin.

The discovery was published in the journal Mycologia.


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