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Meet Spongebob Squarepants, the Mushroom

  • Spongebob Squarepants Cartoon

  • Spongiforma squarepantsii, aka Spongebob the Mushroom

    Spongiforma squarepantsii -- a new mushroom with an eeire resemblence to the cartoon character -- was discovered recently in the forests of Borneo. (Tom Bruns, U.C. Berkeley)

What lives in the rainforest, under a tree?

A scientist from San Francisco State University has made a startling discovery in the forests of Borneo -- a mushroom that looks almost exactly like a sponge. The bright orange, wrinkly 'shroom is so strange that researcher Dennis Desjardin simply had to name it after the most famous sponge of them all: Spongebob Squarepants.

"It's just like a sponge with these big hollow holes," Desjardin explained. "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."

Most mushrooms aren't at all like Spongiforma squarepantsii.

Shaped like a sea sponge, S. squarepantsii was found in 2010 in the Lambir Hills in Sarawak, Malaysia. It's bright orange -- although it can turn purple when sprinkled with a strong chemical base -- and smells "vaguely fruity or strongly musty," according to a description published in the journal Mycologia by Desjardin and colleagues.

Under a scanning electron microscope, the spore-producing area of the fungus looks like a seafloor carpeted in tube sponges, which further convinced the researchers to name their find after the famous Bob.

The new species is one of only two species in the Spongiforma genus. The other is found in central Thailand, and differs in color and odor. But close examination of the fungi and genetic analysis revealed that the two were relatives living thousands of miles apart.

Desjardin said Spongiforma are related to a group of mushrooms that includes the tasty porcini.