‘Truly Remarkable’: Tiny Mushroom Grows Out of A Frog

Wetlands specialist Lohit Y.T was walking through India’s Western Ghats when he noticed something strange. A tiny frog had an even tinier mushroom growing from its side. It is the first time someone has found a mushroom sprouting on a live animal.

Lohit and his friends were observing a group of around 40 Roa’s intermediate golden-backed frogs in a pond. After posting photos online, people suggested the little grey mushroom could be a Bonnet from the Mycena genus.

The tiny Rao’s intermediate golden-backed frog with mushroom growing on its side.

Rao’s intermediate golden-backed frog with a mushroom growing from its side. Photo: Lohit Y.T./WWF-India


Growing on living animal tissue

The discovery shocked both fungus and amphibian experts. Bonnet mushrooms usually grow on rotting wood. Prior research demonstrated they could grow on the roots of living plants but not on living animal tissue. Some other fungi can grow on living tissue, such as the fungi that cause athletes’ foot, but these don’t develop into mushrooms.

“To the best of our knowledge, never has a mushroom sprouting from the flank of a live frog been documented,” researchers said.

Researchers have not been able to study the frog further, but have made some educated guesses as to how the bizarre growth occurred. Frogs and fungi both thrive in damp environments. Antimicrobial secretions on frog skin act as a barrier to various pathogens but in this case, fungal spores have managed to break through. Experts think the fungal spore might have broken through because of an injury to the frog.

Close up photos showing the mushroom growing on a frog.

Close-up photos showing the mushroom growing on the frog. Photo: Lohit Y.T./WWF-India


A mature mushroom and an unbothered frog

The mushroom spore was able to anchor onto the frog and grow successfully. For a mushroom to grow, it has to produce mycelia, which act a little like plant roots. If these can find enough nutrients then the mushroom can grow.

“I would guess that this is a purely superficial skin infection with Mycena. Those can be sustained over a long time, like most fungal skin infections in humans,” mycologist Christoffee Harder, who was not directly involved with the study, told Forbes.

Despite its mushroom passenger, the tiny frog looked unfazed, according to Lohit. It is impossible to tell how the growth will impact the amphibian. No one knows how deeply the mushroom is anchored, how long it has been there, or how long the frog can survive like this. 

“Given that the mushroom in the picture looks mature, perhaps this frog is playing a role in its ecosystem by dispersing spores as it hops around,” biologist Nancy Karraker told Forbes. She called the discovery “truly remarkable.”

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.