You don’t see this kind of thing every day.
On a nature walk with friends, an Indian scientist uncovered something astounding — a frog that seemed to have a mushroom growing out of its back.
In an interview with the New York Times, Lohit Y.T., the river and wetlands specialist said he and his hiking group of fellow scientists had merely been looking for interesting animals, as one does, in India’s Western Ghats region last summer when they stumbled across the fascinating frog.
“There were five of us,” Lohit said, “busy searching for the species and avoiding leeches.”
When checking out a bunch of Rao’s intermediate golden-backed frogs, which are about the size of a thumb, the scientists noticed something strange: a growth on the back of one of them. Someone snapped a picture, and upon closer inspection, it appeared that the minuscule amphibian had an even-teenier mushroom growing out of its back.
Though the scientists didn’t bring the curious creature in question back home with them, Lohit posted the close-up photos of it online. In response, amateur and professional mycologists, or those who study fungi, said it looked like a bonnet mushroom. Known collectively as Mycena, this type of mushroom primarily lives on decaying plant matter, the NYT explains — which makes the one that seemed to be on the back of the tiny golden-backed frog from the Ghats so mysterious.
Although plenty of fungi grow on living things — including the yeast that grows on our skin — the overwhelming majority don’t become mushrooms, which are only produced when a spore meets a nutrient-rich surface and sprouts its thread-like cells known as Mycelia into it. It’s only if the Mycelia get enough to eat that mushrooms are formed.
There are, to be fair, some documented cases of mushrooms growing out of living beings, such as the zombie-esque and potentially medicinal Cordyceps fungus that takes over insects’ bodies and brains, controlling and then killing the host.
But in the case of this unique frog-fungus pair, the animal and the mushroom both appeared to be very much alive, which until recently was entirely unheard of.
Last year, a team of researchers at the University of Copenhagen led by bonnet mushroom expert Christoffer Bugge Harder had a somewhat similar discovery: Mycena that grew on the living roots of trees. As Harder, who was not involved in the discovery of the frog, told the Times, he’d bet money that the mushroom seen perched on Nohit’s photo was Mycena — but because neither the frog nor the mushroom were brought back, it’s impossible to say for sure with just a photo.
Despite the lack of physical evidence, the observation itself is enough of a marvel to astound scientists — and maybe one will go out and find the frog, or another like it, for a sample.
More on curious biology: Wildflowers Adapting to Insect Apocalypse by Pollinating Themselves, Scientists Say