British plumber Steve Ratcliffe got more than he bargained for when he was called out to replace a blocked toilet in Wales. Inside the ceramic bowl he found an enormous, alien-like growth, which has left experts baffled.
Ratcliffe said that the client lived on a cattle farm. Rather than relying on a public water supplier, the property received water from an underground pump via a borehole.
“The customer has had years of intermittent soakaway issues and backfilling problems…probably due to the age of the system, as it’s not on mains drainage,” Ratcliffe told Newsweek.
“The toilet age is unknown, but going off the overall state of the house, I guess it’s at least 10 years old,” he said.
Ratcliffe posted photos of the “alien” growth on the subreddit r/TerrifyingAsF*** It has received thousands of upvotes and hundreds of comments speculating on what it could be.
“It’s just a crazy fungus that found a super ideal place to grow…dark, wet, a bit anaerobic perhaps and a source of food,” one user said.
Others suggested it could be biofilm, an aggregation of microbial cells that are held together by an extracellular coating.
To get to the bottom of the mystery, Newsweek asked multiple experts what they thought the curious clump could be.
“It is very very difficult to identify something like this using a picture,” Angel Medina Vaya, a professor of applied mycology at the University of Cranfield, said. “Fungi are really happy in environments where there is organic matter and high humidity. Hence a toilet that has not been flushed for a long time could be the best place.
“Fungi are incredible organisms able to grow in the most extreme conditions when no plants or bacteria would be able to survive, and here you appear to have a very good example,” Vaya said.
Hans-Curt Flemming, a professor emeritus at the University of Duisburg-Essen and an expert on biofilms, said the sinister slime could indeed be a biofilm. “The phenomenon is most probably a fungus, not an alien. It is [likely] a biofilm formed mainly by fungi but also inhabited by bacteria.
“Fungi in toilet flushing systems are not unique but rarely reported. Who looks into their drain pipes and performs a scientific investigation?” Flemming said.
Luckily, he did not think the growth poses any significant health risk. “As it sits in the draining system, it will not pose any health threat. It is not poisonous, but consumption is not suggested.”
Emma Thompson, the executive officer of the British Mycological Society, said that from this image alone it was impossible to determine whether the growth was even a living organism. She suggested that it could be something nonorganic, like degraded sealant.
This suggestion was echoed in many of the comments on Reddit. “It’s more likely to be the wax seal that’s put on when toilets are installed,” said one user. “This almost certainly isn’t fungal.”
However, having seen the growth firsthand, Ratcliffe was certain it was not simply a piece of old plumbing. “I took the thing out, and I’ve been in the trade for years, and this is a first for me,” he said. “I’m just saying, with absolute conviction, it’s not wax.”
Whatever it is, it has left some Reddit users horrified. “Whoever owns that toilet needs an exorcism,” one user said.
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