cordyceps's blog

On Mice and Moods

I just recently came across this research published already in 2007 on Cordyceps sinensistested as an antidepressant on mice. Past experiments using anti-depressants have shown that mice suspend their tails up in the air when they are in a better mood. So tails up apparently can be used to access the potential of a drug as antidepressant. I pasted the summary in and set a link to the complete paper.


Antidepressant-Like Effect of Cordyceps sinensis in the Mouse Tail Suspension Test
Koji NISHIZAWA, Kosuke TORII, Aya KAWASAKI, Masanori KATADA, Minoru ITO,Kenzo TERASHITA,Sadakazu AISO and Masaaki MATSUOKA
Biol. Pharm. Bull. 30(9) 1758—1762 (2007)
Cordyceps sinensis (CS) has been known as a component of traditional medicines that elicit various biological effects such as anti-fatigue, immunomodulatory, and hypoglycemic actions. Since it has been well-established that fatigue is closely related to depression, we used the tail suspension test (TST) in mice to examine the antidepressant-like effects of hot water extract (HWCS) and supercritical fluid extract (SCCS) of CS. Immobility time in the TST was reduced by administration of SCCS (2.5—10 ml/kg, p.o.) dose-dependently though it was not reduced by treatment with HWCS (500—2000 mg/kg, p.o.). Neither HWCS nor SCCS altered locomotor activity in the open field test, excluding the possibility that the effect of SCCS is due to activation of locomotion. Pretreatment with prazosin (an adrenoreceptor antagonist) or sulpiride (a dopamine D2 receptor antagonist) reduced the effect of SCCS on the immobility time. In contrast, pretreatment with p-chlorophenylalanine (p-CPA, a serotonin synthesis inhibitor) did not alter the anti-immobility effect of SCCS. The last finding is consistent with an additional observation that SCCS had no effect on head twitch response induced by 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan in mice. Taken altogether, these results suggest that SCCS may elicit an antidepressant-like effect by affecting the adrenergic and dopaminergic systems, but not by affecting the serotonergic system.

Key words Cordyceps sinensis; depression; tail suspension test; noradrenaline; dopamine

Here a picture from a mouse (or pika) that observed me with big eyes while I was first  photographing and then digging out a Cordyceps at Kongpo Barla. Interestingly the fruiting body already had some gnawing traces. I hope the poor mouse managed to keep its tail up after seeing me stealing its yartsa gunbu.



Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:23

Cordyceps interview with National Geographic Weekend

When I was in Washington DC in late March to present on Cordyceps sustainability at the World Wildlife Fund headquarters "Cordyceps - Tibet's Golden Fungus: Bane or Blessing? I was also interviewed by Boyd Matson from National Geographic Weekend, a radio show. 

The subject was, surprise! surprise! Caterpillar fungus. We talked about its role in Tibet, sustainability issues and its perceived and actual "potency". NG weekend was so kind to send me an edited ten minute audio file you can listen to here. I thought it is quite entertaining and informative, but I might be biased......

Daniel during an interview in Shunlung in April 2002

Mushroom Cooking in Tibet Video

I produced my first video for Youtube. It is on Kar Sha cooking. It shows how Meadow mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) are cooked the traditional way with tsampa, butter and salt. The caps are put gills up on the fire in Tibet. It also includes some nice landscape scenes from Kham as well.  It is still a little rough, but at only 3 minutes not too torturous   ;0}

I have much more video footage from my MushRoaming travels in Tibet [and Ecuador], but I am still very slow in editing, I really need a crash course to get all the great stuff out. 

Shimpu du!  Yummie!

New Article on Mushrooms in Bhutan

My article on Mushrooms in Bhutan entitled: Bhutan's Buddha Mushroom was finally published in Fungi (No.4.1). It describes then local mushroom markets, especially the Matsutake market and collection, deals with "Yartsa goenbub" - Cordyceps sinensis in Bhutan, and a range of other edibles favored by the Bhutanese.


Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:22

Caterpillar Fungi from Ecuador's Rain Forest

Got back this week from the MushRoaming Ecuador Tour I organized with Larry Evans. We all had great fun and learned a lot about the funga in the Amazon and many other interesting subjects related to ecology and culture. We are offering another tour in early 2013 to Bolivia

Here a few new Cordyceps / Ophiocordyceps photos from specimen I found in the tropical forests of Ecuador, what an incredible place, what enormous biodiversity!

We found several Ophiocordyceps with bright red perithecia, looking quite similar and being closely related to Ophiocordyceps australis [formerly: Cordyceps australis]. 

Below an Ophiocordyceps on a weevil with a whole bunch of fruiting bodies growing out of it that is quite similar to Ophiocordyceps curculionium. However DNA analysis by Joey Spatafora, OSU Corvallis have shown that this is most likely a new species closely related to O. curulionium.

Close ups of the perithecia of Ophiocordyceps australis. What a great red these diminutive stromata display. The perithecia look close to maturity.

Below the fungus looks like a proper Ophiocordyceps australis, the most common pathogen in the neotropics. It infected a Conga ant (Paraponera sp.), which is one of the biggest ants in the Amazon. Fungus and ant measure about 12 to 15 cm (5 to 6 in). George Yager spotted the single stroma first, I thought it was a tiny red Mycena and was ready to move on, but Larry Evans recognized the Cordyceps. 

This ant was tiny, it measured only 1.2 cm (0.5 in) and you can imagine how small the fruiting body is. I only found it when I was taking multiple pictures of another O. australis and saw a tiny red spot down below.
I am not sure if this is a specimen of  Ophiocordyceps australis itself, the red fertile tissue of the fruiting body is less rounded than the typical O. australis. 

Note the white growths on the hind leg. They look like conidiomata, which produce spore-like conidia. Conidia are asexual spores, basically reproductive cell clones. Often Cordyceps are only reproducing through conidia. A fungal organism that only produces conidia is known as an anamorph. Anamorphs do not grow stromata or fruiting bodies, only teleomorphs do. Usually lack of fruiting bodies makes identification of a Cordyceps much more difficult.

Near the Umbuni waterfalls I found this creature. At first there were just a few brightly orange stromata visible coming out of a decaying trunk, a favorite site for Cordyceps to direct its prey to dig in before kill off. 

Once the fungus cum coleopteran [=beetle] larva was excavated this wild gestalt became visible:

According to Prof. Spatafora this fungus is a member of Metacordyceps. However, these species seem to acquire hyperparasites quite easily, making the collection of molecular data difficult. A possible name for this morphology is Metacordyceps martialis.

Another Cordyceps, according to Joey Spatafora, OSU mycologist and Cordyceps expert, possibly a Metacordyceps, "Joey wrote: "There are a number of Asian species with this overall morphology (e.g. M. liangshanesis) but I do not know of anything from South America."  Here a recent article on the taxonomic status of Metacordyceps, one of the authors being Joey Spatafora.
White fertile stroma tissue is not too common. It is growing on a lepidopteran larva that was also buried in a decaying trunk. Check out the white perithecia.

Close up of the stroma

Cordyceps from Mindo, western slope of the Andes

Below a Cordyceps anamorph that could be Isaria tenuipes, a.k.a. Paecilomyces tenuipes, but there are also other morphologically similar anamorphs. We found it in on trunk near Mindo.

An Ophiocordyceps/  Cordyceps I found in Mindo, sitting on top of an decaying, moss covered trunk. The site was in the cloud forest on the western slope of the Andes in Ecuador. I will try to find out if has been described already.

Close ups of the perithecia of this Ophiocordyceps.

And finally an unidentified Cordyceps relative we found on the wall in our hobbit-style guest house in Mindo. Just wouldn't find a Cordyceps on your wall if it was an upper class hotel, right?

First uploaded 3-6-2011, last update 11-30-2011
Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:21

New Drug derived from (Ophio-) Cordyceps sinensis

It took me four months to finally add a new entry here yesterday - I spend much more time on my web pages at - and today this comes through the news ticker: 

Himalayan Fungus Aids Mitsubishi Tanabe Sales With Multiple Sclerosis Drug 
written by Kanoko Matsuyama in Tokyo for Bloombergs.

Apparently, Gilenya, as it is marketed by Novartis, a new promising Multiple Sclerosis drug has been developed from Cordyceps sinensis. Twenty five years ago the researcher Tetsuro Fujita had the idea to use Cordyceps since it must suppress the immune system of the ghost moths it feeds on in the Highlands of Tibet and the Himalayas. 

We do not know if any real Cordyceps is used as raw material, but the price of a monthly dose of $3000 could suggest that, however pharmaceutical companies probably would charge the same amount if the base was regular straw and the patients in dire need. The analysts are hearing  the cash registers ringing out loud . It is speculated that they might make soon 5 billion a year in global annual sales and make it under the top ten drugs, no not most expensive, just highest grossing drugs. 

The article mentions the meaning of the Chinese and Japanese name of Cordyceps as "Winter worm, summer plant", in Chinese it is cao = grass, but fails to mention that these names are translations of the original Tibetan name Yartsa gunbu "summer grass, winter worm". It would have been nice if Tibetan medicine gets the credit it deserves, since it was first used in Tibet. And also its first record dates to the late 15th century doctor Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje. And what about not only a credit to the roots of this medicinal, but to Tibetan Medicine for having discovered the medicinal value of this weird organism? And once in the dream state, what about a slice of Mitsubishi Tanabe & Novartis pharma profit pie for the further development of Tibetan medicine?   

Image of Cordyceps subsessilis from D. Shimizu and K. Kobayashi 1997. Illustrated Vegetable Wasps and Plant Worms in Colour, Tokyo.

Interestingly, no mentioning in the article of Ciclosporin, another famous drug that has been developed from Cordyceps, but another species Cordyceps subsessilis. Ciclosporin, is used to suppress immune reaction after organ transplants, a procedure not possible without immuno-suppression. It was originally derived from Tolypocladium inflatum and only later recognized as the true anamorph [meaning an asexually often mold like state] of C. subsessilis by Cornell mycologist Kathy Hodge and others.

Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje in a contemporary Yartsa Gunbu Thangka

The Men-tsee-khang webpage reports about Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje

Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorjee was born to Rigzin Phuntsok and the daughter of Kunkyen Tashi Namgyal in the Earth Sheep year. He learned Buddhist philosophy and medicine from many renowned scholars and, at the age of 16, he wrote Manngag-Jewa-Ringsel (Pith Instructions, Relics in Crores, [better translated as "Instructions on a Myriad of Medicines"]) and many other treatises. He was the founder of the Zurlug tradition of Tibetan medicine. Later, his grandson Zurkhar Lodoe Gyalpo wrote a commentary on rGyud-bzhi called Mepoi Zallung (Oral Instructions of my Forefathers).


Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:20

Cordyceps Mishaps in the Mean Stream News

Caterpillar fungus made it in the main stream news in January. From the BBC to New York Post . The articles focused on a sad story of a mass murder in Nepal's Annapurna region. In a nutshell the sad story went like this: A group of 7 non-local poachers were found sneaking into the village's Cordyceps habitat and was confronted by 65 local men. One of the poaching Gorkhas got killed, so some came up with the idea to kill them all and pretend nothing ever happened. Well, that did not work. Now 35 of them are accused of murder. The story was originally brought to light to western readersby Jamie James article "Nepal's Aphrodisiac War" published in Men's Journal in May 2010, it previously was reported in South Asian media.

Not surprising, but still disappointing, the media attention focused on the dark side of the Yartsa gunbu story, or Yarsagumba as it is known in Nepali. The BBC piece by Joanna Jolly was entitled: "Yarsagumba - Curse of Himalayan Annapurna Region". Sadly, each year some people get killed when emotions run high in the context of harvesting this extremely precious fungus. We are talking of an annual harvest worth in the hundreds of millions, and these are not Rupees or Yuan, but Dollars or Euros. Real big money in this otherwise impoverished region of Tibet and the Himalayas. Taking these astronomical values into account in an industry that takes place in extremely remote areas with very little oversight, it is surprising how few fatal incidents happen each year.  In regard of value generated and transferred, the Yartsa gunbu fever is probably best compared to an annually reoccurring gold rush. And gold rushes are an economic phenomenon usually accompanied by many, many more fatalities. 

In general, I am very impressed how non-combative the whole collection is and how peaceful the collection season passes each year. And, yes, each fatality is very sad and unnecessary. Already some stories have been published, for example from Dzato County in South Qinghai where some local officials got killed in 2005 over selling harvesting permits to outsiders without consulting the locals or sharing profits with locals. I also mention a few other cases in my 2008 Economic Botany article on the Yartsa gunbu economy in Tibet.

Another sad event I heard about took place in Nagchu in 2009. A local herder and a collector got in a fight. The herder insisted it was not acceptable to pick Yartsa gunbu around the shores of a sacred lake. The devout person saw the purity of the site being spoiled. A fight ensued and one of them got killed, thus in the end human blood spoiled the water of the sacred lake. 

This raises the question why do many Tibetan people, be they under Chinese or Nepali rule, regard the collection of Yartsa gunbu as a source of bad karma? This perspective stems from a traditional Tibetan taboo, described in Namkhai Norbu's book "journey among Tibetan nomads" (2002) that digging up the ground for roots or mineral upsets the local spirits, which then will strike the transgressor, his or her clan and their livestock with disease and other misfortune. Furthermore, Yartsa gunbu is perceived as a living creature, the larva is still alive from a traditional perspective, thus harvesting caterpillar fungus is an act of killing. However from a scientific view the killing of the insect was already done by the fungus, the collectors are now taking the life of the insect killing fungus, an act that usually receives much less attention, since mushrooms are perceived as a less conscious life-form than animals.

Back to recent articles on Yartsa gunbu; Much relevant information on Caterpillar fungus is contained in an English language article by French Observer 24 entitled:  , worth its weight in gold".

Here an image of maybe Tibet's first Yartsa Gunbu Thangka, I hope I did not upset any traditionalists commissioning this scroll painting including the Medicine Buddha - Sanggye Menla སངས་རྒྱས་སྨན་བླ། and Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje, a famous Tibetan Physician, who wrote about Yartsa Gunbu in the 15th Century, the first known record of Ophiocordyceps sinensis.

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:20

Cordyceps and everything else in the Jungles of Ecuador

We are teaming up with FungalJungal's Larry Evans, an expert on Bolivia's rain forest fungi and Ecuador's Jungle Chocolate Lodge for the next MushRoaming Tour.

MushRoaming Ecuador's Rainforest
We will be based in a beautiful and clean Canadian-run jungle lodge connected to an organic chocolate plantation located in Ecuador's Amazon Rain Forest.  Arrival and departure from Quito, Ecuador's Andean capital.
Early bird special when booking before Nov. 1, 2010
Link to Amazon MushRoaming tour 

Cordyceps digesting a Scarabaeus beetle. Photo: Larry Evans

Bryce Kendrick encountered this spider in Ecuador killed by a fungus, probablyCordyceps ignota Marchion. According to Bryce, the spider is Tarantula(Theraphosidae) within the infraorder Mygalomorphae.
What a sight!!!

An ecclectic member of the Stinkhorn family, Staheliomyces cinctus.  Photo: Larry Evans

Canoes are the way to go.  Most travels and excursions will be done by canoe on the Amazonian river system. 
Photo: Larry Evans

The Color Purple, fungal feature. Photo: Larry Evans

Bioluminescent fungi have turned into a recent sensation in the rain forest.  
Fungi use insects attracted by the emitted light for spore dispersion. Photo: Larry Evans

Link to Pictures of the 2011 Ecuador tour

Link to Fungi article on the Ecuador Mushroaming Tour 

Link to Bolivia
 MushRoaming 2012 tour
Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:19

New Photo Reports on MushRoaming in Tibet

I uploaded dozens of images on my web pages from this summer's Floral & Fungal Foray to Tibet's beautiful Kongpo Region. The tour was a great success and we will do a similar itinerary July 31 to Aug 13, 2011 . 


But back to Cordyceps. As expected we encountered hundreds of pounds of caterpillar fungus being traded on the markets in Lhasa and Bayi. Markets are much busier once all the caterpillar fungus is harvested.

A Tibetan offering a shoebox full of Yartsa gunbu at the Bayi Market .

A Hui dealer with around 10 pounds worth US$40,000 to 60,000.

I was quite surprised to find fresh caterpillar fungus in late July onthe markets in Kongpo, here a fresh harvest dug in the mountains above Draksum Tso. In most place the collection season is over in mid to end of June.

Freshly collected Bu karpo I encountered in a village near Draksum Tso. Here the white Yartsa Gunbu being dried on a threshold.
Bu Karpo deserves its own entry at some point. I have encountered it several times in Kongpo where it seems endemic.

I really loved our homestay with a Tibetan family who took us matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake) hunting in their evergreen oak woods on the foot of the majestic 7500m high Gyala Pelri. When back home we cooked up several mushroom species and shared our cooking. I still got to finish the report, but already uploaded 50 pics or so.

Also we found so many orchids that I had to make an orchid page which so far has 23 species including stunning lady slipper orchids Cypripedium (C. tibeticum, C.himalaicum, C.flavum and C. guttatum) and gorgeous Habenarias.

Cypripedium himalaicum on Serkim La                                    Habenaria arietina flowering in Pome / Bomi

Many more pictures are to viewed on my web pages from this summer's Floral & Fungal Foray to Tibet.

Last edited Mon, 11/02/2015 - 09:13

Yartsa Gunbu Hunting in East Tibet - May / June 2010

Pictures from my 2010 MushRoaming Cordyceps Tour in Eastern Tibet (West Sichuan & Qinghai) showing the Yartsa gunbu collection in 2010.

More detailed report on my MushRoaming webpages

Not much is happening once it snowed. Collectors just hang out and have to kill time waiting until the snow melts. The day before the snow was already a day of rest since it was the 15th day in the Tibetan calendar, many collectors take off this holiday from collecting.

Dorje, Thubten, Tashi Tsering and Drolma scanning the ground for bu. These guys are off course fully licensed collectors at CNY600 per person, nearly USD100.  Without license one is not allowed to collect Yartsa gunbu. As tourists we probably could not even buy a license and we are not there as competition interested in searching the mountains 12 hours a day for 5 weeks. So we just ask local bu hunters if we could accompany them and usually we are received warmly. If we find some bu ourselves we buy it from them, but here they found ten Yartsa gunbu while we found only one.

We found our specimen in 4650m / 14,500 ft !  2010 seems to be an excellent year forOphiocordyceps sinensis on the Tibetan Plateau. 

Close by grew this beautiful Iris, probably Iris ruthenica var. nana

Vultures feeding on a yak carcass. We were awed watching them walking and hopping up the slope. Their bellies were apparently too full to allow them a take off in the valley ground without gathering momentum by running downhill.

Prices are higher in 2010 than in 2009. Maybe that is the reason that these Yartsa gunbu dealers are smiling in Litang.

"Chongcao" being processed in a high end store in Chengdu. Prices here ranged from CNY 20,000 per kg for stromata only (none of the highly desired insect parts) up to CNY 360,000 per kg for the fattest, finest caterpillar fungi. 


Rongpatsa, Kandze / Ganzi County June 2, 2010

"Kar Sha" - Agaricus campestris


Kar Sha or Karpo Shamo, the "White mushroom" in Tibetan denotes several Agaricus species. It is a favorite edible in Tibet, nearly everyone knows, since it grows in pastures and around camps and villages.
Here Agaricuscampestris is growing in the grass.

Loga showing some Kar Sha in front of Rongpatsa's ShedaMountains. I heard many stories about it and this time I had the chance to watch the preparation [see below].

Kar Sha mushrooms, gills up without stems, are being roasted on an electric coil stove. Butter, salt and tsampa [roasted ground barley flour] is placed on top of the gills and cooks in the juice of the field Agaric.

Dechen offers some of the cooked Agaricus campestris caps. They were very tasty!

Our driver Mr. Song took off on his own hike while we looked for Yartsa gunbu. He found a big patch of Lepista saeva = personata, the field blewit or blue foot. Some local Tibetans knew about its edibility, but it is by far not as known or common as Kar Sha, Agaricus campestris.

Caterpillar Fungus Hunt

Yartsa Gunbu, caterpillar fungus habitat we searched with success after hiking in for several hours. Mount Dinu, probably 16000ft in the background.

Tenzin found a nice Yartsa gunbu. The season here is nearly over, all Ophiocordyceps sinensisare sporulating [see below]

Yartsa gunbu hunters showing each other their bounty.

A late stage caterpillar fungus. Tibetans called it "tsar bu", overmature yartsa gunbu. While the fungus is sporulating the underground larva becomes soft and will shrink heavily whendrying and result in low value.

Perfect ending for a perfect MushRoaming day. Our guide Dorje relaxes in Rongpatsa's famous hot springs! What a view!

There are still spaces avaialble for the July 14- 27 Tour to Tibet.
Check out:
Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:17

Yartsa Gunbu News from Tibet Spring 2010

Yartsa Gunbu season is peaking in Tibet right now. I heard from Kandze / Garze / Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture [TAP, Sichuan] that the harvest is going well and that the price is higher than last year. I am glad to hear that. I was a bit worried, when I heard about the persistent drought in Yunnan. I was wondering if that drought would extent into the mountains of the upper Mekong catchment. However, already in the context of the devastating earth quake in Jyekundu / Jiegu / Yushu [see the links for donations below] there were reports of rains in Jyekundo. I hope to be able to report via this blog from my Cordyceps tour when we cross Kandze and Golok / Goluo [Qinghai] TAPs. I have to see how accessible the net will be in the Tibetan hinterland.

Yartsa gunbu collectors camp at Chungba La in Lithang in May 1999.

For the time being, I will post some links in here on this years reporting on Cordyceps. Each year we see more reports on the phenomena (see below). When I first got into caterpillar fungus it was such an exotic thing and I had a really hard time figuring out what I had encountered on the alpine pastures in Bachen in early June 1997. Of course the value was nowhere near where it is now, high up in the sky, but still the income from Yartsa gunbu was already very important back then and many communities relied on it as one of their main cash sources.

Now onto the reporting in the media:
A short clip in French "Les Cordyceps du Qinghai will introduce you to Yartsa gunbu harvest and trade in Qinghai:

An unnamed researcher from Beijing's Tibet Research Center (CTRC) has published an article "Tibet enters Cordyceps sinensis collection peak" on this years collection in Tibet AR including some interesting figuress" "Tibet enters cordyceps sinensis collection peak" 

In China Daily Daniel Chinoy published an interesting 3 page article entitled  "Rare fungus faces extinction " on April 15,. Much of the article is on the sourcing of Chinese medicinal material, its value and problems regarding sustainability, but a good junk is dedicated to dongchong xiacao = Caterpillar fungus. One page talks about collection and dealing in Qinghai and photos show Hui collectors and dealers. Chinoy quotes Yang Darong's absurd claim without naming him as his source, that nowadays only 10% are left of the production commonly harvested 20 years ago. As discussed earlier in this blog, this claim is not supported by real data.

Last, but not least, I discovered Shiva Devkota's blog spot with lots of interesting articles on Cordyceps and other fungi in Nepal and the Himalayas. Check it out!

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:14

Cordyceps Crisis or Reporting Crisis?

An article on Cordyceps sinensis in Science [Science 322:1182, 21 Nov 2008] reported Chinese entomologist Yang Darong's claim that currently only 3-10% of Cordyceps can be harvested what used to be harvested 20 years ago. This outrageous claim was published without consulting any other researchers on this issue. I wrote a letter to the editor that did not get published. Down below the long version of this letter.

My Reply to Science:


I am very glad to see that Science took up the issue of Yartsa gunbu, summer grass-winter worm, as the Tibetans know Ophiocordyceps / Cordyceps sinensis for at least over 600 years. I am confused why Yang uses the Maori term aweto, which is coined for a New Zealand species. I rather use the Tibetan term Yartsa gunbu, since it also includes the larva and not only the fungus. In addition the Chinese term dongchong xiacao is most likely a literal translation of the original Tibetan term. 

I definitely share the concern regarding the sustainability of current Yartsa gunbu harvest intensity. However, Yang Darong's claim that there is only 10% left of this resource is an extraordinary claim and I think we would need to see the data to support such an extraordinary claim. In an earlier South China morning post article Yang was quoted: " Where there used to be 40 specimen per square meter there is now only 5 fungi". That must have been a very special square meter with such a fungal population density! Definitely not the common patch found by many of the Tibetan collectors. Also Yang states, there used to be a production of 1000t per year on the Tibetan Plateau. I really would love to see the base for this figure. At 1000t, mind you, we are talking about roughly 3 billion specimens. At an overall population of 6 million Tibetans on the Plateau, Yang is suggesting a family with 6 members on average needed to collect over 3000 specimens, impossible! To approach this claim from another angle, a 1989 report from the Plateau Biology Research Institute in Lhasa estimated total potential production of about 70t annually for Tibet AR, and reported an average annual harvest of around 13-15t between 1957-1983. TAR provides around 30-50% of the annual production, thus an overall Plateau production total not even close to 100t. In addition, I have interviewed through the years many Tibetan collectors and Tibetan, Chinese and Hui dealers on the Plateau. None of them had reported a substantial reduction in production. All collectors pointed out how they find less caterpillar fungi, but attributed that to the fact that there are so many more collectors. Also, most interviewees pointed out that there are good years and bad years when collecting fungi. Official TAR production figures from 1999 to 2004 indicate an annual harvest between 25 to 50t, the 2006 figure is 38t, nowhere a production crash documented on the scale Yang and his team is claiming.

In trying to make his case of a total resource crash Yang is using the change in value as another indicator. He is stating that 25 years ago he could have traded a bag of salt for a bag of Yartsa gunbu. This reflects much more on the economic situation in China back then than the availability of Yartsa gunbu. Its main consumers are now rich and upper middle class Chinese, a segment of society not in existence in China outside the party structures [the government is still the biggest single buyer of caterpillar fungus in TAR and NW Yunnan. It uses them as presents for visiting officials and as New years presents for its members, a special perk for anybody working in Tibet]. Also, in the 60 and 70s Tibetans had to collect Yartsa gunbu for the government. Per capita quotas had to be filled annually without real payment, which surely ruined the price. Economic reforms only came slowly to the Tibetan areas in the 1980s, but caterpillar fungus prices rose quickly.


Back to the present (= late 2008), this collection season prices peaked, but in recent weeks for the first time in more than a decade Yartsa gunbu prices have decreased substantially. The loss of 20-30% indicates clearly prices were fueled by the coastal economic boom and the availability of discretionary spending rather than reduced harvest level. 2008 was an average harvest and the price decline seems much more connected to the Shanghai stock market crash and the global financial crisis, since Yartsa gunbu has turned from a medicinal tonic into a status symbol in recent years.

I doubt the extent of Yang Darong's extraordinary claim for another reason. Ophiocordycepsand its host, the ghost moth [Thitarodes spp.] are both at the end of their life-cycle. The larva is already killed by the fungus, and the fungus will die off after sporulation. Thus, as long as there are enough spores released, reproduction should be secured. The fact that Yartsa gunbu has been collected for centuries and is still present in areas where intense collection has been carried out suggests that it is a rather resilient organism. A more detailed analysis can be found in Winkler, D. 2008. Yartsa Gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis) and the Fungal Commodification of the Rural Economy in Tibet. In: Economic Botany 62.3.


But we really need long-term fieldwork, something I am sure Yang Darong agrees to. We need to find out if we can come up with harvesting schemes to minimize negative impact an this organism, which has turned into rural Tibet's most important cash source. Some areas derive 80-90% of their cash income from yartsa gunbu. On TAR average it is 40%, contributing more value to the TAR GDP than the industry and mining sector! [ Winkler 2008].

Here the full reference: Stone, R. 2008: Last Stand for the BodySnatcher of the Himalayas? In: Science 322:1182 [21 Nov 2008]

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:12


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