How two new fungus species got named after the COVID-19 pandemic

Fungal hairs on a beetle and fake leopard spots on a palm will now forever nod to quarantines

fungi named after COVID-19

Named during the pandemic, this new fungal species got a COVID-19–inspired name.  Diabolocovida claustri (asexual spores, bottom right) grow on leaves of Florida’s saw palmettos (left) causing spots (top right).

P. Crous et al/Persoonia 2020

Never mind that they’re not viruses. Catching the trend of cocktails called quarantinis and registered racehorse names like Wearamask, two fungal species now have pandemic-inspired monikers. In a nod to the new normal of science, both names grew out of the frustrations of trying to keep research alive in an upside-down world (SN: 5/23/01).

In the first case, tiny, fungal leopard spots on saw palmetto leaves turned out to be new to science. Despite looks, they belong to the same family (Xylariaceae) as the black stubs that rise from the ground called dead man’s fingers.

The leopard spots are not just a new species but represent a whole new genus, mycologist Pedro Crous and colleagues announced in the July 2020 Persoonia. As the pandemic raced across Europe, Crous — working mostly from home instead of in his lab at Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands — named the genus “Diabolocovidia,“ or “devilish COVID.”

Finding the new species wasn’t that hard, says forest pathologist Jason Smith. He’d had some spotty leaves lying around his lab at the University of Florida in Gainesville when another coauthor visited in search of novelties. “This speaks to something a little broader,” Smith says. Even everyday places hold new fungal species because, unlike birds and mammals, most fungi are unnamed.

In the second case, Purdue University biologist Danny Haelewaters was supposed to be on six-nation field trip from Panama to eastern Russia.  Instead, he was grounded in West Lafayette, Ind., socially distant from his coauthor André De Kesel, a mycologist at Belgium’s Miese Botanic Garden.

Many unknowns don’t get the love they deserve because they’re parasites, Haelewaters laments. Yet “parasites are so incredibly diverse” and influence a host species so much they can essentially “run ecosystems,” he says.

Laboulbenia quarantenae fungi
Another new fungus species with a pandemic-themed name, Laboulbenia quarantenae, is known only as microscopic sexually reproducing hairlike tufts on one species of ground beetle. Unlike most fungi, this one doesn’t form the classic cobwebby filaments of mycelium.André De Kesel
Laboulbenia quarantenae fungi
Another new fungus species with a pandemic-themed name, Laboulbenia quarantenae, is known only as microscopic sexually reproducing hairlike tufts on one species of ground beetle. Unlike most fungi, this one doesn’t form the classic cobwebby filaments of mycelium.André De Kesel

In hopes of raising interest in these overlooked wonders, he chose the epithet quarantenae for a new species of microscopic Laboulbenia fungus described July 30 in MycoKeys. Found twice so far in the botanic garden on a kind of ground beetle, the L. quarantenae fungi look like tiny, warped bananas with antlers. The new species reproduces only via sex, which is weirdly simple for a fungal lifestyle.

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