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“Spongebob” Mushroom Named

Mushrooms are poisonous, hallucinogenic, glowing, and now, thanks to a new study, named after a children’s cartoon character.

The new species, Spongiforma squarepantsii— found in 2010 in Sarawak, Malaysia—has a spongy appearance that reminded scientists of TV’s Spongebob Squarepants.

“It’s just like a sponge with these big hollow holes,” San Francisco State University’s Dennis Desjardin said in a statement. “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.” (Read more about the mushroom.)

There’s only one other species known so far in the Spongiforma genus, which lives in central Thailand and has a different color and odor. S. squarepantsii has a bright orange hue and smells “vaguely fruity or strongly musty,” according to the study, published in May in the journal Mycologia.


Spongiforma squarepantsii

Image courtesy Tom Bruns, UC Berkeley

When Desjardin and colleagues looked at the new mushroom under a scanning electron microscope, they found even more spongy similarities—for instance, the spore-producing area of the fungus resembles a seafloor carpeted in tube sponges (see picture below).

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first species recently named after a cartoon character—at least familiarly. In western Colombia in 2010, scientists happened upon a new beaked toad with a long, pointy, snoutlike nose that earned a nickname of the Mr. Burns toad, after the nefarious villain from The Simpsons television series, Conservation International expedition leader Robin Moore said in a November statement.

(Read my recent post on unusual species names.)

One thing’s for certain—there are more more weird fungi out there. Only five percent of Earth’s fungi species have been found, and there may be up to three million still unknown, according to the university.


The mushroom’s spores resemble tube sponges.

Image courtesy Tom Bruns, UC Berkeley

Desjardin has done his fair share scouting out new fungi species—in 2009, I reported on his discovery of Mycena luxaeterna (see picture), which glows nonstop in the Brazilian night.

His team searched for glow-in-the-dark mushrooms during new moons, in rain forests so dark the researchers often couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces, Desjardin told National Geographic News in 2009. (See more pictures of glowing mushrooms.)

But “when you look down at the ground, it’s like looking up at the sky,” Desjardin said. “Every little ‘star’ was a little mushroom—it was just fantastic.”

Check out more weird coverage on National Geographic News.


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  2. Samantha Agrade
    February 25, 2012, 7:23 am

    These scientist sure know how to be humorous despite being in a serious occupation.

    @Jacob felis hellokittyae? Hmm.. if ever a cat specie is named felis hellokittyae, it will probably have odd big anime ayes, white fur and a pink patch on the corner of its head, resembling a ribbon XD

  3. kaitlynh.
    January 22, 2012, 11:32 pm

    You people need to lighten up and quit being so up tight its funny and I get up…you people should to

  4. Spongebob? « Lavonardo
    July 3, 2011, 4:37 pm

    […] Square-shaped sponge by the name – the schoolboy pants are an optional feature. Filed under animals Comment (RSS)  |  Trackback  |  Permalink […]

  5. EvelynW~OL
    Melbourne, Australia
    June 22, 2011, 8:34 pm

    Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.
    What a completely ridiculous name. I second Jacob’s statement. It’s unbelievable how they simply named it in such a way.

  6. Benedictus W
    June 22, 2011, 2:22 am

    Really funny ^.^
    Just hope it’s in Indonesia 😀

  7. batlizard
    Saggitarius Arm
    June 21, 2011, 2:08 am

    I’m honored.

  8. melvin shei quindag
    June 21, 2011, 12:13 am

    good name

  9. ummud darda
    June 20, 2011, 9:54 pm

    those scientists surely have good sense of humor

  10. Lloyd Abao
    Surigao City, Philippines
    June 20, 2011, 8:56 pm

    they started naming creatures from cartoons now.?
    man, i wonder when they gonna name after something like “Voltron”, “Voltes 5”, “Power Rangers”…

  11. Andrea Wilson
    June 20, 2011, 11:29 am

    its silly to name things after cartoons. after people sure but seriously….cartoons? did a 7 year old discover this mushroom and do all the research because it seems that way

  12. pioxy
    June 20, 2011, 10:11 am

    nice name huh…

  13. Afrida
    June 20, 2011, 8:57 am

    It doesnt look square…:’/

  14. khairul nizam
    June 20, 2011, 6:21 am

    hahaha.. proud to be Malaysian.. there are more to be discover ! maybe Patrickorma Starfishii? who knows!

  15. Dudo
    June 20, 2011, 4:47 am

    I’m curious about that other Spongiforma “living” in Thailand. Mushrooms do live, or it’s just in Thailand? Perhaps, I start to be careful about thai food

  16. Juvy Love L. Lacre
    Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines
    June 20, 2011, 3:34 am

    “Spongiforma Squarepantsii”… not bad…very unique name..^_^

  17. Jacob
    June 20, 2011, 3:30 am

    And like that, even decades from now when sponge bob is but a distant sin of a forgotten age, the world will have this reminder of the taint that plagued a generation. I’ll just pray that a new cat species isn’t discovered and named felis hellokittyae…

  18. AliceHearts
    June 20, 2011, 3:17 am


  19. claudia
    Rivarolo canavese (TO)
    June 20, 2011, 2:20 am

    I funghi sono tossici, allucinogeni, emettendo luce ed ora, grazie ad un nuovo studio, nominato dopo un personaggio dei cartoni animati dei bambini. Le nuove specie, squarepantsii- di Spongiforma trovato nel 2010 in Sarawak, Malesia-ha un aspetto spugnoso che ha ricordato agli scienziati dello Spongebob Squarepants della TV. “È appena come una spugna con questi grandi fori vuoti,„ il Dennis Desjardin dell’università di Stato di San Francisco ha detto in una dichiarazione. “Quando è bagnata ed umida e fresca, potete estorcere l’acqua da e balzerà di nuovo alla sua dimensione originale. La maggior parte dei funghi non fanno quello.„ (Colto più circa il fungo.) c’è soltanto uno altre specie conosciute finora nel genere di Spongiforma, che vive in Tailandia centrale ed ha un colore e un odore differenti. Lo squarepantsii dello S. ha una tonalità arancio luminosa ed odori “vago fruttati o forte ammuffiti,„ secondo lo studio, pubblicato a maggio nel giornale Mycologia.

  20. carlota capuz
    June 20, 2011, 2:07 am

    patrick , mr. crab and squidward mushroom are just there arond ready to be discovered!

  21. carlota capuz
    June 20, 2011, 1:57 am

    just wait…maybe patrick mushroom is just there around ready to be found!

  22. Random Dude
    June 20, 2011, 1:31 am

    O.o whrs mr krabs and plankton? and squidy 🙂

  23. […] Meet Spongiforma squarepantsii, a recently identified species of mushroom whimsically named after a certain Porifera who lives in a pineapple under the sea. […]

  24. Comic book guy
    June 18, 2011, 5:22 am

    Mr. Burns is the sinister billionaire in the Simpsons- not really a villain

  25. […] …But that’s not even a sponge! […]

  26. […] Weird & Wild: “Spongebob” Mushroom Named – National Geographic News Watch via newswatch.nationalgeographic.com […]