Lohit Y.T., a river and wetlands specialist at World Wildlife Fund-India, embarked on a trip with his friends to the foothills of the Western Ghats in India last summer. Their mission was to observe amphibians and reptiles. During their search for these species, they stumbled upon Rao’s intermediate golden-backed frogs in a roadside pond. One of the frogs had a tiny mushroom growing from its flank.
Lohit and his friends shared their discovery in the journal Reptiles and Amphibians in January. After posting pictures of the frog online, citizen scientists and mycologists identified the fungal hitchhiker as a bonnet mushroom. This type of mushroom typically grows on decaying plant matter, not living animals, which raises questions about how it ended up on the living frog.
The growth of a mushroom requires a fungal spore to establish itself and produce mycelia, threadlike cells that absorb nutrients. This process usually occurs on a surface, and in the case of living creatures, it raises questions about whether the mycelia are on the skin or inside the amphibian’s body.
Scientists have come across fungi in unusual places before, but finding a living mushroom on an animal is unprecedented. Matthew Smith, a fungal biologist at the University of Florida, expressed surprise at the discovery but noted that without collecting a specimen for further analysis, it is difficult to determine exactly how this occurred.