Friday, October 05, 2012

Borneo discoveries range from glowing mushrooms to bizarre bugs

A recent expedition to the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia turned up some trippy species: bioluminescent mushrooms, stalk-eyed flies, jumping spiders and a pitcher plant that doubles as a toilet for small animals.

"It has been a successful expedition," team leader Menno Schilthuizen, of Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, said in a statement. "A lot of material has been collected … Now the next phase will start, namely DNA research into the relationships."

The team of Dutch and Malaysian researchers aimed to investigate the biodiversity around Mount Kinabalu, Borneo's highest point, and they say they've collected some 3,500 DNA samples of more than 1,400 species of plants, fungi and animals. Of these, they've identified about 160 species previously unknown to science, inlcuding spiders, mushrooms, beetles, snails, damselflies, ferns, termites and possibly a frog.

The scientists won't publish their finds until next year, but they described this part of Borneo as an "El Dorado" for fungi experts.

"While the plant and animal life of this mountain has been the focus of numerous research projects, Kinabalu has remained terra incognita for scientific studies on fungi," team member and mycologist József Geml said in a statement. "One of the manifestations of this diversity comes in the endless variety of shapes and colors that sometimes are truly breathtaking."

During walks through the jungle in the dark, Geml and his team found two glowing species of fungi, one of which might be new to science.

"Glowing mushrooms are rare but they do exist outside the psychedelic world," Luis Morgado, who worked with Geml, wrote in a September blog post for the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. "During daytime one might pass by and even photograph them without knowing it, but only a nocturnal excursion reveals this incredible phenomenon that remains hidden in plain daylight."

Among the other highlights of the expedition was the study of the region's stalk-eyed flies whose peepers sit on stems that are sometimes even longer than their bodies.

Also: [See Photos of the Borneo Finds]