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'Spongiforma squarepantsii' lifeform found in Borneo

Bizarre rubbery sponge-shroom stuns jungle boffins

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Boffins have discovered a strange new type of spongy mushroom in the island rainforests of Borneo and decided to name it Spongiforma squarepantsii in homage to the well-known American cartoon featuring a talking sponge who lives under the sea.

S squarepantsii was found by Professor Dennis Desjardin last year, and is a novel bright-orange spongelike mushroom.

"It's just like a sponge with these big hollow holes," explains Desjardin. "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."

According to descriptions by Desjardin and his fellow jungle-mushroom hunters, their new find is capable of turning purple under the right conditions and smells "vaguely fruity or strongly musty".

According to Desjardin, S squarepantsii has deviated from the usual cap-and-stem architecture of other mushrooms as an alternative means of keeping its spores moist. A normal mushroom grows the stem to get the spores up high and help them spread, and uses its cap to stop them drying out, but Squarepants uses its spongy structure to quickly hoover up more airborne moisture should it dry out.

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

You can read all about S squarepantsii in the paper Spongiforma squarepantsii, a new species of gasteroid bolete from Borneo, recently published by Desjardin and his colleagues in the journal Mycologia. ®

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