Thursday, June 6, 2019

Cordyceps Again

"There is no accounting for a person's taste," said the woman as she kissed her cow. - Elma Kipfer, circa 1950.
Tasmania- click to enlarge
Mark Bower just returned from 23 days in Tasmania where he hiked daily looking for and photographing fungi.  He found more than 150 species that were new to him.  Yes, that was his vacation!  His picture above from the Tarkine rainforest is the starfish stinkhorn, Aseroe rubra, meant to catch your attention so you will continue reading about the unrelated gruesome fungus find below.

Mark Bower's story:
Club-shaped fungus - MB
"I had been looking for fungi in the Tarkine rainforest for 2 weeks and decided to search a different habitat. I chose a path very near a beach on the northern coast of Tasmania. Right on the trail was this club-shaped structure which I didn’t recognize.  On close inspection, there were obvious black “pimples” on the surface which I knew were ostioles, the openings through which spores are forcibly ejected.

Cordyceps fungus growing out of a parasitized caterpillar - MB
Legs of the parasitized caterpillar- MB
The presence of ostioles indicated that this was an ascomycete, which led me to believe this was very likely a cordyceps fungus. Knowing that, I carefully removed the loose sandy soil until I found the host, which turned out to be a  caterpillar.  This is Cordyceps gunnii fruiting from the head of a moth caterpillar. The caterpillar was about 5 inches long and you can see the outline of legs. "

An entertaining way to understand their life cycle is in this script of a three act play describing its attack on a caterpillar.   

C. gunnii like other Cordyceps sp. has a history of use as a traditional herbal medicine.  Ophiocordyceps sinensis is the best known example which is used through out SE Asia.  Recent studies of polysaccharides from the C. gunnii suggest that they could enhance nonspecific immunological function, humoral immunity, cellular immunity in mice, and inhibit tumor growth.

Chris and Deb Barnhart have traveled a lot in Asia studying mussels (see the "no accounting for a person's taste" above) and they shared these photographs of O. sinensis, aka "vegetable worms," where they saw trays sorted for sale in the market in Dalien, Tibet. For more on our Missouri Cordyceps, see this past blog.