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Scienmag: “Bizarre new species discovered … on Twitter”: scientist describes new species of fungus parasitic on millipedes after perusing a Twitter image: Troglomyces twitteri (not in this photo)

2020-05-15

not a millipede– much prettier. photo by tomekwalecki courtesy of pixabay.com

Science magazine (scienmag.com) published an article on May 15 about a newly described species that was discovered when a scientist perused a twitter image showing the head of a millipede (not shown here because I’m not sure that photo is open access) with a parasitic fungus.   Ana Sofia Reboleira of the National Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen was “scrolling through Twitter” (something I avoid) when she saw an image that caught her eye.  It was “a photo of a North American millipede shared by her US colleague Derek Hennen of Virginia Tech” that had a few small spots that looked out-of-place.  With a colleague, she searched her museum’s large trove of millipede specimens for similar spots.

“Together with colleague Henrik Enghoff, she discovered several specimens of the same fungus on a few of the American millipedes in the Natural History Museum’s enormous collection — fungi that had never before been documented.”  She highlighted the discovery as an example of how “social media” can facilitate unexpected connections.  She happened to be an expert in the field and she was communicating with other expert professionals and interested amateurs.  This is a positive side-effect of facilitated communication between people with specialized or incomplete knowledge on abstruse subjects.

From the photograph, I wouldn’t know if a millipede or a deep undersea creature was the subject.  I couldn’t guess how magnified the photo was, nor exactly what the fungus was (although the tiny spots were helpfully circled in red).  I would have described it as “not human”.  “Damn it, Jim”, I’m a doctor, not an entomologist (with apologies to “Bones” from Star Trek).  That’s one reason I didn’t reproduce the photo in the original article– you probably wouldn’t have known it either.  This picture, from pixabay, is much more agreeable, and is the nicest “millipede” photo they had.

I don’t use Twitter much.  I depend on the internet news outlets to notify me when something of importance or outrage is twitted, usually by twits.  Likewise, I do not spend time on Facebook.  There are other, better sources for news, and I’m not a social sort anyway.  I don’t like being thought of as the product rather than the user.  I can’t much help the fact that WordPress considers me a product as well.

So: cheers to the entomologist, and I hope her job at the Natural History Museum is secure (I think it is).  Denmark, as the happiest country in the world (or is it the Netherlands?), has a lot going for it, including high taxes and a very secure social safety net.  It is also highly democratic, NOT socialistic.  Burger-flippers are paid the equivalent of $22 an hour, and the burgers only cost 27 cents apiece more than in the US.  Well worth it.

This diversion from the pandemic was brought to you by Conrad Theodore Seitz.

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