cordyceps's blog

Earthquake in East Tibet

Most of you have heard about the awful, devastating 7.9 earthquake on April 14th, 2010 that destroyed 80-90% of the buildings in Jiegu, the prefectural town of Yushu /Gyegu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.  Many people were killed, the current official estimate is over 2000 people. Many residents escaped with just their clothes they were wearing and have lost everything at a time were night frosts are still common for quite awhile. 

Yushu Prefecture is a predominately Tibetan region on the border of QinghaiSichuanand the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The biggest city is Gyêgu (Jiegu township, also written Jeyku = Jyekundo = Yushu), a city of  probably 80.000 inhabitants. Gyegu is one of the most important Yartsa Gunbu / Cordyceps sinensis market places and has prospered from that trade in the past. I have been there four times and had scheduled the 2010 Cordyceps Tour to visit Jyekundo's Yartsa Gunbu market.However, after the devastation of the earthquake that makes no sense. So I decided I rather donate and write this entry to help people find great conduits for help.

The need for humanitarian help is enormous. Funds are needed for immediatereliefsupport and rehabilitation in the medium and long term.  Down belowlist of small and mid-size, trustworthy and effective NGOs that  haveworked in Eastern Tibet for years.  

Yushu Earthquake response   with daily updated information. These are several Jyekundo based NGOs that partnered up for the relief effort

Kilung Earthquake Relief Appeal  working from neighboring Sershul / Sequ Donate by Papal 

Machik Washington DC based NGO working in Kham

ASIA , Italy based NGO with charity status also in Conway MA & Germany

The Bridge Fund US based NGO working in Tibetan areas

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

The Ghost of Hepialus Haunting High Asia

Many Chinese and Indian research papers on Cordyceps Ophiocordyceps still identify the host larvae as belonging to the genus Hepialus. Howeversince 1968 Hepialus L. is a monospecific genus containing only the European ghost or swift moth Hepialus humuli

Most former High Asian Hepialus were transferred to Thitarodes Viette back then. In 1968 China had other problems than keeping track of entomological taxonomy, but more than 40 years after the transfer it should be time to follow suit. 

Here a more detailed explanation by Dr. Gaden Robinson, an specialist on Hepialidae at the natural History Museum in London. I had asked him to write this short note last year to be included in Andreas Gruschke and my upcoming anthology on Cordyceps sinensis

Dr. Robinson wrote:

The generic name Hepialus has been restricted in its application to a single European species - Hepialus humuli - for some forty years. The genus Thitarodes was erected in 1968 to (at the time) accommodate "Hepialusarmoricanus (note correct spelling) and another dozen or so related species placed originally in Hepialus and which have nothing whatsoever to do with that genus.

Unaware of  recent literature, Chinese entomologists began describing species, associated withCordyceps, in the genus Hepialus in the mid-1980s. By 1999 there were about three dozen recently-described Chinese ghost-moths from the provinces of Tibet AR / Xizang, Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan and Gansu that were erroneously placed in Hepialus. However, it is certain that some of these "new species" had already been described by European authors or by other teams in China.

David Wagner, the late Ebbe Nielsen and I (Nielsen et al., 2000) tried to sort it out as best as we could and we published the results in 2000, transferring the Chinese "Hepialus" to Thitarodes to join their congeners. At this point there were 51 described and named species in Thitarodes but, as said above, some of these will prove to be synonyms. The name Thitarodes is well-established and I recommend the use of Thitarodes for all Chinese species described as "Hepialus". In the final analysis, it is still by no means clear which species of Thitarodes are associated with 'commercial' Cordyceps sinensis.

Nielsen, E.S., Robinson, G.S. & Wagner, D.L. 2000. Ghost-moths of the world: a global inventory and bibliography of the Exoporia (Mnesarchaeoidea and Hepialoidea) (Lepidoptera). Journal of Natural History, 34: 823-878.

Viette, P.E.L. 1968. Contribution à l'étude des Hepialidae (36ème note) : Lepidoptera Hepialidae du Népal. Khumbu Himal., 3(1): 128-133.



Fast forward to 2010:

A very interesting article "Hot of the Press" on two newly described ghost moths in the context of the Bhutan Cordyceps field study:   

Maczey, Norbert; Kuenzang Dhendup, Paul Cannon, Nigel Hywel-Jones, & Tek Bahadur Rai 2010. Thitarodes namnai sp. nov. and T. caligophilus sp. nov. (Lepidoptera: Hepialidae), hosts of the economically important entomopathogenic fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis in Bhutan. Zootaxa 2412: 42-52.

Here with consent of the photographer Norbert Maczey photos of Thitarodes ghost moths from Bhutan.  I have to admit, so far I only came across drawings or photos of closely relatedHepialus humuli, so it is great to finally have a good images of ghost moths. 


Thitarodes namnai Maczey sp. nov., named for Namna pass in Bhutan. A is a male specimen, B is female.

A recent Photoshop artwork I made.

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:11

International Cordyceps Conference Xining June 8-10, 2010

June 8-10, 2010 an international conference on Cordyceps sinensis (冬虫夏草, Yartsa Gunbu, Caterpillar fungus) jointly organized by WWF and the Grassland Center of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture will be held in Xining, Qinghai Province PRC.

There is an English language webpage on SourceJuice announcing the conference.

For the Chinese webpage click here: 
                                      年冬虫夏草国际会议   中国 • 青海 • 西宁   2010年6月8~10日


Also I will be spending two weeks before the conference on the high altitude grasslands of the Eastern Tibetan plateau as part of this year's MushRoaming Cordyceps tour. We will start on May 26 in Chengdu, Sichuan and travel overland to Xining arriving there on June 7 to disband on the June 8. During the tour we will visit Cordyceps markets, join local collectors in their hunt, fit in a day or two of morel hunting and enjoy everything else Tibet has to offer in regard of culture and nature.






Yartsa Gunbu collectors I joined taking a break. Gye La April 2004. (c) Daniel Winkler
Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:05

New Lhasa Yarsta Gunbu market

Largest Cordyceps sinensis market in Tibet to open

People's Daily Online 14:50, March 11, 2010  

The Meibang Cordyceps sinensis Market located at the Economic and Technological Development Zone in Lhasa is under construction and is expected to start business officially in this June after finishing construction in May, sources from departments concerned on March 9.  It is estimated that 10 tons of cordyceps sinensis will be dealt in the market with the turnover of 1 billion yuan every year. And more than 350 job opportunities will be offered when the market opens.
According to professionals, the annual trading volume of Cordyceps sinensis in Tibet ranges from 40 to 50 tons and the Meibang Cordyceps Sinensis Market with the annual trading volume of 10 tons has great potential. This market will also increase rural people's income and boost the standardization of Tibet's markets as strict measures will be taken for quality control and price monitoring after the Meibang Cordyceps Sinensis Market becomes operational.

Here a picture of the old Yartsa gunbu market before the mosque  in Lhasa
The Lhasa Yartsa gunbu market is dominated by Hui, Chinese muslims [wearing straw hats or white caps], many of them immigrated from Gansu and Ningxia. Their tight-knit community is of great advantage in this trade, since it requires access to big amounts of cash. Many buyers buy on commisson  for the big brokers or borough cash from these brokers for transactions. Most of the yarsta gunbu is sold to Chinese lowland phyto-pharmaceutical companies and the Tibet AR government. The TAR government uses Cordyceps as present for official guests or as Losar / New Years present for government officials. Most of the sellers i observed over the years here are Tibetans. Photo June 2006, Daniel Winkler

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:03

Thai doctor claims to have grown Ophiocordyceps sinensis fruiting bodies - but probably is Only Cordyceps militaris

 reported on Jan 30, 2010:
A Thai doctor yesterday claimed he could make a fungus that can cure several diseases and enhance men's sexual potency like Viagra

Dr Somyos Kittimankhong, a senior official with the Department of Disease Control, said he had not found any Internet search results showing that the caterpillar fungus, which is priced at several millions of baht a kilo, could be made to germinate in captivity, which he said he had done. [.........] Somyos said he spent three years of trial and error and several millions of his own baht trying to make the fungus germinate before he found out recently that Thai jasmine rice, mixed with other nutrients and some vitamins as plant foodstuff, could make it germinate. The fungus used was bought from China and kept in a refrigerator modified to a steady temperature. The doctor said he was thinking about making profit from his discovery but had not yet thought about registering it.



Photo of a natural fruiting body growing out of the ground in Tibet. Kongpo Barla, Tibet AR, June 2006. (c) Daniel Winkler

If this story holds true - APPARENTLY IT DOES NOT - this would be a major breakthrough in the cultivation of Ophiocordyceps / Cordyceps sinensis. Many people are growing the mycelium, but so far no one succeeded in getting the mycelium to grow stromata, the fruiting bodies as part of artificial cultivation of this medicinal fungus. I had seen semi-artifically grown stromata in 2003 in Dartsedo / Kangding (Ganzi / Garze Tibetan Aut. Prefecture, Sichuan), but they were grown on larvae of Thitarodes ghost moth (see picture below). However, this project never managed to scale up and produce big quantities for whatever reason.

Cordyceps grown in shoe box-sized plastic tubs. Photo: Daniel Winkler in Dartsedo / Kangding (Ganzi / Garze Tibetan Aut. Prefecture, Sichuan), April 2004.


My biggest worry back then as now is that the artificial production of Yartsa gunbu will undermine income for rural Tibetans. I rather have a million of marginalized people earn some cash than one company making millions. However, many Chinese consumers are willing to pay more for the natural product collected in the wild, so even if these cultivation techniques succeed the bottom should not fall out of the market. Moreover, if Cordyceps lives up to the hype created around it, the natural product alone will not suffice in the future to satisfy demand. Still it is to early to judge.

On a more funny note, if you want to read some absurd statements from a  that seems to be sponsored by Pfitzer pushing Viagra check this out.

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:03

On Cordycepin and Cancer


A very interesting BBC news article (see beginning below) was released Dec. 28, 2009 on research in the UK on how Cordycepin, one of the active ingredients in Cordyceps militaris [and Ophiocordyceps sinensis] is working in fighting cancer cells. By now the full paper has been published, it is open access, although the technicality of its content makes it a bit less accessible. Here the beginning of the article:


Scientists discover how wild mushroom cancer drug works
Scientists have discovered how a promising cancer drug, first discovered in a wild mushroom, works. The University of Nottingham team believe their work could help make the drug more effective, and useful for treating a wider range of cancers. Cordycepin, commonly used in Chinese medicine, was originally extracted from a rare kind of parasitic mushroom that grows on caterpillars.

The researcher had extracted their cordycepin from Cordyceps militaris I was told by the researcher Cornelia de Moor, from the School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, Centre for Biomolecular Sciences.


Here a picture I took in Nantong during the 5th International Medicinal Mushroom Conference in September 2009. 

In the front C. militaris grown on rice, in the back grown on larvae. 



Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:01

Geographic Genetic Diversity Study published

Late 2009 a study by Chinese researchers on the genetic diversity of Cordyceps/Ophiocordyceps sinensis on the Tibetan Plateau was published. Very interesting. I have not really studied it in detail, but the conclusion is that polymorphism of nrDNA ITS sequences suggested that O. sinensis spread from a center of origin in Kongpo (Nyingchi / Linzhi Prefecture) to Himalayan influenced southern regions of Tibet AR and subsequently spread to northern areas, where the diversity is much smaller.

Genetic diversity of Ophiocordyceps sinensis, a medicinal fungus endemic to the Tibetan Plateau: Implications for its evolution and
Authors: Yongjie Zhang, Lingling Xu, Shu Zhang, Xingzhong Liu, Zhiqiang An, Mu Wang and Yinglan Guo

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:290 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-290

link to the  Genetic diversity study .

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:02

Welcome & yet another blog...

Welcome & yet another blog...


I have to confess, basically I am no blog reader myself and thought for years I will spare my contemporaries that I would morph into a blogger and more importantly save myself yet another thing I "have" to do. My webpage updating eats up already so much of my time. Still, searching for info on the net I end up on more and more blogs....


Also, I keep getting all these relevant emails or links on Cordyceps sinensis / Caterpillar fungus and other interesting fungal stuff. And it would be a shame just to sit on them and not share them in one convenient place. Furthermore the software I keep writing my webpages with [ and] is outdated and on this blog I can post things, which I can not upload on my webpages like pdf-files. So I better put my 2008 Economic Botany Article article on Cordyceps in Rural Tibet up right here.


Anyways, enough excuses for entering the blogosphere, let's get to creating some content.

Last edited Sun, 09/16/2012 - 04:00


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