Frog Discovered with Mushroom Growing on Its Back in India, Scientists Are Baffled

Frog Discovered with Mushroom Growing on Its Back in India, Scientists Are Baffled
Frog Discovered with Mushroom Growing on Its Back in India, Scientists Are Baffled

While exploring the Western Ghats, a group of Indian scientists found something strange: a frog with a mushroom growing on its back.

They were hiking near the mountains in June, looking for reptiles and amphibians. Near a small pond by the road, they saw around 40 tiny frogs. One of them caught their eye because it had a mushroom growing on its side. Despite how odd it seemed, the frog didn’t seem bothered by it, unlike the creatures in “The Last of Us.”

“The Last of Us” web series follows survivors Joel and Ellie as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a fungal infection.

Upon closer examination, it was clear that the growth was a small gray mushroom.

mushroom sprouting from the flank of a live frog
A mushroom sprouting from the flank of a live frog

Hobbyist naturalist Chinmay Maliye and Lohit Y.T., a river and wetlands specialist at World Wildlife Fund-India, promptly captured photographs of the discovery before the group proceeded further.

In their report published

in January in the journal Reptiles and Amphibians, the team noted, “To the best of our knowledge, the phenomenon of a mushroom sprouting from the flank of a live frog has never been documented before.”

They also added that as the frog was not collected, no estimation of its prognosis or how long the frog can survive, and in what condition, is possible.

What do we know about the frog species involved?

The frog was among dozens of Rao’s Intermediate Golden-backed frogs (Hylarana intermedia) congregating in the pond.

Golden-backed frogs
Golden-backed frogs

According to the authors, these frogs, roughly the size of a human thumb, are native to the region and are commonly found in abundance throughout the Western Ghats.

In June, the tropical foothills echoed with the chorus of frog croaks as Lohit, Maliye, and their team explored the terrain on a herpetology expedition. Little did they know that their quest for reptiles and amphibians would lead to an unexpected discovery of the unique fungus phenomena.

Upon spotting the frog adorned with the attached mushroom amidst a gathering of Rao’s Intermediate Golden-backed frogs, the team opted to leave it undisturbed after a brief photoshoot.

Lohit shared the close-up images of the frog online in the nature journal, hoping that citizen scientists might assist in identifying the fungal growth.

What makes the mushroom discovery so perplexing to experts?

Lohit’s expectations were met with enthusiasm.

Mushroom enthusiasts and experts promptly chimed in, suggesting that the growth could belong to a bonnet mushroom within the Mycena genus.

This variety of mushrooms typically flourishes on decomposing organic material such as plants and decaying wood, leaving experts puzzled as to why one appeared to be growing on a living frog.

While many fungi do grow on living organisms, such as the yeast found on our skin, most don’t develop into mushrooms.

For a mushroom to emerge, a fungal spore must find a suitable surface to settle on and produce mycelia, akin to a plant’s roots. The mycelia then generate a mushroom if they encounter sufficient nutrients.

The explorers refrained from capturing the frog for further examination, despite its lively state and apparent tolerance of the fungal growth. Although living organisms and fungi often form deadly alliances, the situation observed here is less dramatic than the perilous encounters depicted in “The Last of Us.”

While the cordyceps fungus depicted in the popular video game and HBO series infects and ultimately kills ants and other insects by hijacking their bodies and brains, the frog-fungus duo appeared to coexist harmoniously, with both entities showing signs of vitality.

“The frog was not collected, so no prognosis is possible,” the authors noted.

Perhaps, however, other adventurous explorers will be motivated to return to the Ghats to search for and study a sample frog—assuming it hasn’t transformed into a zombie-like creature in the meantime.

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