Cordyceps Blog

Cordyceps & Morel Tour in East Tibet 2015

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Subtitled photo series showing Caterpillar Fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis, Yartsa gunbu) collection and trade in Kham, East Tibet, currently administrated as Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture from May 23 to June 3. Also included a bit on the morels we found. Many more and diverse images are shown in my photo gallery.

Link to the 2017 Cordyceps & Morel Expedition May 30 to June 10

Lhamo ready to dig a Yartsa gunbu, "summer grass, winter worm" as Tibetans know the insect-fungus complex.

Bu searching ladies leaving their hunting grounds near Lithang in 4300m / 13,300 ft.

Searching caterpillar fungus in 4000m in Garze (= Ganzi / Kandze) County. Stefania is equipped with a typical "bu" hoe.

Ophiocordyceps_sinensis, Yartsa gunbu in ground, in situ
Ophiocordyceps sinensis still in the ground. The ghost moth larva (Thitarodes sp.) is still encapsulated by the mycelium mesh that takes up moisture and possibly nutrients form the surrounding.

"Bu", as Tibetans refer colloquially brief to Yartsa gunbu needs to be cleaned once dried. The mycelium coating the larva needs to be removed. When dry the peeling is much easier.

Yartsa gunbu market in Ganzi town. Still uncleaned caterpillar fungi are lying on the table. When still uncleaned Yartsa gunbu is priced by piece, weighing does not work due to soil coating that is held together by mycelial hyphae. However, in this stage the moisture content is still high and the larva will have shrunk when fully dried. Thus a lot of experience is necessary to negotiate a good price when buying fresh or partially dried caterpillar fungus.

Cornelia buying Yartsa gunbu from Minyak ladies in Dartsendo / Kangding. These ladies were very firm in their price and selection process: no cherry picking, just pick a handful!

Fully cleaned, sorted by size and tied together to sell in these attractive bundles.

Near Dranggo / Luhuo we drove up an old logging road to a spruce forest were the first morels were fruiting. In Tibetan morels are known as "Khukhu Shamo", the "cuckoo mushroom", since they appear around the same time the beloved cuckoo bird returns to the Highlands from India. I have made a webpage on morels in Tibet, and also written several papers on the ethnomycology of morels and the commercial collection in the Tibetan areas. Here the links to my papers : Morels in Eastern Tibet 2010  and  The Return of the Cuckoo or Morels in Tibet 2007

Here an assembly of the still youngish morels. We loved their coloration!

The blade shows centimeters for scale. Hopefully we will get DNA on these specimens, there has been a lot of recent work on Morchella in China, the link will take you a free download of Du et al. 2012. Multigene molecular phylogenetics reveals true morels (Morchella) are especially species-rich in China. 

Our morels partially sliced up before cooking! Unfortunately the way the restaurant prepared them did not impress us, they were hardly fried, so we send them back to be on the safe side and they still came back in a very liquid, broth-like sauce.

Tibetan medicine plants market
A Tibetan lady selling dome of the favorite Tibetan medicinals at the market in Dranggo, where out of around 50 booths only 2 or 3 were run by local Tibetan merchants.
From left to right Rheum root, above on the newspaper Yartsa gunbu, next to it three kinds of longish medicinal roots, on the bottom center Rhodiola / Rose Root, full center dried. Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) often used as a cheap saffron replacement in Tibet, back center Saussurea medusa, known in China as Xue lian hua (Snow lotus), and lower left rhizomes of Gastrodia elata, an orchid known in TCM as Tianma, heaven's hemp. 

kawalungri mountain
The mighty and sacred Kawalongring Mountain SE of Kandze/ Ganzi.

Link to the 2017 Cordyceps & Morel Expedition May 30 to June 10

Cordyceum - Cordyceps Museum in Pinghu, Zhejiang, China

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In October 2014 BioAsia opened a Cordyceps Museum called the Cordyceum in Pinghu, a small town 100 km to the Southwest of Shanghai. To celebrate its opening Prof. Li Zengzhi, a cordyceps researcher hired after retiring from his university duties by BioAsia organized an International Cordyceps Symposium March 28, 2015. 

Prof. Li Zengzhi shows how in the 1960s he experimented with spraying Beauveria conidia mixed with soil to fight forest tent caterpillars. Using entomophagous fungi, especially Beauveria and Metharizum for pest control is now standard practice in China, Prof Li stated.


 Cordyceum Pinghu
The Cordyceum has thousand visitors each day! Its free, but the average visitors spends RMB 100 (US$16) in the company store.

Here a short segment from the beginning of the Cordyceps time-line.
Cordyceps historical timlineI was not familiar with the details of the medical history of Isaria cicadae in East Asia known in China as "Vegetable Cicadae" or Jin Chan hua  金蝉花, which means literally "Cicada flower". The museum displays a lot of facts about its history. "Cicada flower" use apparently predates the so far known documented use of Yartsa gunbu, Ophiocordyceps sinensis.

In the museum there is a backlit display showing the historical developement of Cordyceps and its human use and 

cordyceum display shelf
Cordyceum specimen display shelf.

I photographed part of the museum section where they are trying to depict all known Cordyceps & allied species. To my surprise I found a bunch of my own photos! I had never been contacted about the use of my pictures. I was proudly told they were making an effort to keep the photographer's name in the images. Good that I paid more attention in recent years to watermark my best photos with "© Daniel Winkler" before posting them online. I told the organizers, if you had contacted me I would have send you these pictures in high resolution. 

Here another sample of the species photo display section covering fly parasitizing Cordyceps species.

Cordyceps musicaudata Cordyceps ramosostipitata
Li Zengzhi's favorite specimen: 3 species of Cordyceps on one caterpillar. The original is shown in the museum.

Tatiana Sanjuan's photo of an Cordyceps infected stinkbug.



The symposium focused on the science of Cordyceps and also product development from cultivated Cordyceps species. Li Zengzhi invited an impressive gathering of Cordyceps researchers there who gave lots of interesting talks. Gi-ho Sung, Korea and Nigel Hywell-Jones, Thailand/UK gave a great overview on Cordyceps taxonomy. It was great hearing them both, and I finally met Gi-ho Sung in person!

Prof Li Zengzhi talking about the history of Isaria cicadae in China.

Ho-Yong Park talked about Cordyceps as a product in Korea. Wang Chenshu talked about genomical work focusing on commercially used Cordyceps species and I heard for the first time of trials to use yeasts to grow Cordycepin in bio-synthesis. Liu Xingzhong updated on the current research on Ophiocordyceps sinensis in China, fascinating! Apparently more people are succeeding in growing Os fruiting bodies, some from mycelium without insects hosts, some on hepialid larvae. However, no one went into details about this work, it was just mentioned. Unfortunately in the afternoon most talks were in Chinese without translation, like the presentation from Li Yuling, the Qinghai Province Cordyceps office chief. She is also a researcher working in the field on Yartsa gunbu for many years. I had met her before in Xining, Qinghai. 

Li Taihui from Guangdong presented how they are working on developing Cordyceps guangdongensis as a new TCM drug.

Some presenters at the symposium at the banquet: front row from right to left: Liu Xingzhong, Karma Singay, Ho-Yong Park, Nigel Hywell-Jones, Prof Li Zengzhi, Li Taihui, Gi-ho Sung. I am hiding in the second row.

I had the chance to present on collection of Yartsa gunbu, wild Ophiocordyceps sinensis on the Tibetan Plateau and how to harvest it sustainable (Here a link to a paper I published on the issue). Once again I urged the Chinese Cordyceps research community to finally start serious in-situ sustainability studies. Just incredible that such basic research crucial to the survival of the resource, and the Tibetan communities that collect it, is still not under way. Instead, all research focuses on issues that might help to cultivate Ophiocordyceps artificially. I can see the economic incentive and also that artificial cultivation woul;d reduce the pressure on Yartsa gunbu, but I can not understand that a question as fundamental as how to harvest wild Ophiocordyceps sinensis truly sustainable is just ignored and the government is not stepping in and making sure this crucial work is getting underway before the natural resource is seriously damaged by the intense annual collection. Anyway, spreading the sustainable harvest research gospel was my motivation to attend and it made it at least on the BioAsia News webpage. In a post presentation round table discussion this issue was discussed and it was agreed that this is a key issue, but to expect any action to come of it would be too naive.   


BioAsia Production in Pinghu - Zhejiang

At the entrance to BioAsia with from left Li Zenegzhi, Daniel Winkler, Giho Sung, Nigel Hywell-Jones, Hoyong Park, Karma Singay, Li Chunru & Tan Youjiu

Isaria cicadae grow room. It takes nearly 4 weeks for the synnemata, the anamorph fruiting body (see below image on product) to fully grow. Isaria cicadae is its current name, but originally it was described by Miquel in 1838 from Brazil, so there is a good chance that the East Asian material might be a different species.

Isaria cicadae growing in cultivation
Isaria cicadae synnemata growing in a cultivation tray.

BioAsia's product. The powdered fruiting bodies = synnemata are quite tasty.

Here the fancy version of Isaria cicadae grown on actual cicadas.

Bolivian Amazon Cordyceps Feburary 2015

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You can join Tatiana Sanjuan and me for the April 2016 Mushroaming Trip in Colombia

Here a selection of Cordyceps & allies we have encountered in early February during the Mushroaming Bolivia Tour 2015.
All the specimen were located in Madidi National Park in around 250 to 300m altitude. 

Cordyceps on scarabaeus beetle
An immature Cordyceps growing out of a male Scarabaeid Dung beetle (Oxysternon conspicillatum) . Kobayashi described a Cordyceps scarabaeicola from East Asia, but I have no idea if this specimen is closely related. This one was found by Don Moore, Larry Evans found a more mature specimen in Madidi in 2007, whose stroma seemed close to Metacordyceps martialis. BBC has a great video on dung beetle in action in the rain forest

Cordyceps locustiphila
A perfect specimen of Cordyceps locustiphila. A giant 12 cm locust taken out by this parasite. Stromata growing out of the head and thorax are more mature than the ones  out of the abdomen. It just laid like this on its back in the dry leaves when Pam Buesing spotted it at Wizard Mountain near Rurrenabaque.
What a find!!!
Actually this Cordyceps is now known as Beauveria locustiphila (Henn.) B. Shrestha, Kepler & Spatafora, IMA Fungus 8 (2): 345 (2017)

Cordyceps locustiphila Bolivia

Cordyceps locustiphila
Beauveria locustiphila 

Do you spot the Cordyceps? Unfortunately this Cordyceps I found on my computer screen when looking at the weird structure of this Xylaria in the X. polymorpha group. I found a second stroma further in the back.  Interestingly it also shows how long lasting these old Xylaria fruiting bodies are that they are used by Cordyceps. Missing aCordyceps in the field happens probably all the time, but taking a picture of one and discovering it in photo also happened to me before. Both times my attention was focused on a much bigger mushroom. Below a serious enlargement of the Xylaria:

Cordyceps growing from an ant attached below the old fruiting body of a big Xylaria polymorpha group. It might be the immature stroma of Ophiocordyceps australis.

Ophiocordyceps australis
Ophiocordyceps australis growing from a contorted ant. The branching stroma is mostly immature besides one mature head.

Ophiocordyceps australis
Two stromata of Ophiocordyceps australis growing out of an ant.

The fruiting body reminds me of Ophiocordyceps kniphofioides, but the host of O. kniphofioides is usually an ant and not a beetle. This is the same specimen seen from both sides.

An old Akanthomyces sp. that digested a moth.

Face of the moth infested by an Akanthomyces sp.

Torrubiella sp. 
growing on a moth attached to a leaf. On the abdomen of the moth one can see the roundish perithecia, the structure in which the ascospores are produced. Around the head the synnemata that are typical for the anamorph. Some Gibellula species are the anamorph of Torrubiella species 

The stroma of an Ophiocordyceps close to O. sobolifera growing out of the loamy mineral soil near Macaw Rock. The site is in the flood plain of the Rio Tuichi.

Ophiocordyceps sobolifera stroma
Immature  stroma that is just branching. It looks like the main axis dried out and a second growth spurt initiated growth out below the dry-out point.

A mature and immature fruiting body of an Ophiocordyceps sobolifera group. Both are growing out of Cicadas in larval state.

Close up of the fertile tissue of Ophiocordyceps sobolifera 

Cordyceps growing out of an old decomposing branch.

It turns out the host of this Cordyceps is a coleopteran larva

Close up of the stromata of a Cordyceps on coleopteran larva

Close up of the dissected stroma. As good as it got with macro and photoshop. It looks better under a microscope.


Metacordyceps martialis
Metacordyceps martialis fruiting body growing out of a dead trunk

Metacordyceps martialis
Fertile tissue of the stroma with ostioles of the perithecia showing with a spider crawling around

Metacordyceps martialis
Dug out Metacordyceps martialis growing on a larva, probably of a coleopteran beetle found on Wichi Trail, Chalalan.


Ophiocordyceps dipterigena
A dried in specimen of Ophiocordyceps dipterigena, the fly parasitizing Cordyceps. 
O. dipterigena and O.australis, the ant parasite are the Cordyceps we find most frequently. 

A Cordyceps growing from a shield bug, but I have not figured out its identity yet.

A strange Cordyceps that might be growing on a stick bug. Unfortunately I lost this sample before i could clean it and take another picture.


Thanks to Dr. Tatiana Sanjuan, Bogota for taxonomic advice. 

If you want to join Tatiana and me for a Mushroaming Trip in Colombia, send us a note.

Cordyceps in the Bolivian Yungas 2015

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You can join Tatiana Sanjuan and me for the upcoming Mushroaming Trip in Colombia

On a short hike along a shady creek not far from Senda Verde Animal Rescue Center we ran into a treasure trove of Cordyceps fungi.
Within a few hours we found 15 Cordyceps specimens belonging to 12 different species in 8 genera. After we had found the first Cordyceps, I remembered we should check under leaves for Cordyceps. So I told the Mushroaming group, "turn over leaves and check for Cordyceps down below". And the first leaf I turned over after having said that actually had an Akanthomyces growing below, what a coincident!
The site was located in about 1350m. Yungas refers to the warm, humid forests sandwiched between the lowland Amazon rain forest and the Andean Altiplano.

Akanthomyces on moth
An Akanthomyces, possibly A. pistillariiformis growing on a moth that was attached to the underside of a fern (The dark brown spots on the leave are sori).

AkanthomycesA still young Akanthomyces sp. on moth


Isaria amoenerosea
 An Isaria sp. in the Isaria amoenorosea group parasitizing a Lepidoptera host. Isaria is an anamorph. Anamorphs reproduce non-sexually by growing conidiospores that clone the DNA of the parental organism.


Ophiocordyceps dipterigena
Mature stromata of Ophiocordyceps dipterigena grown from the mummified host a fly.
On the stroma in front one can recognize the perithecia, the roundish structure with a ostiole in the center, the opening out of which mature ascospores are ejected..

Ophiocordyceps dipterigena
A young specimen of what looks like to Ophiocordyceps dipterigena. The fungal fruiting bodies are still growing from the parasitized fly. While I assume the tall whitish stromata will develop the typical "hammerhead" of O. dipterigena stromata, they also could turn out be Hymenostilbe fruiting bodies or to stay with the new terminology, just O. dipterigena anamorphs producing asexual conidiospores. Even more perplexing is the shape of the three yellow fruiting bodies at the lower end. There shape does not look very much like O. dipterigena, but they are still developing and they might "shape up".

Ophiocordyceps dipterigena Sporothrix isarioides
This seems to be Sporothrix isarioides, a hyperparasite growing on the parasitic Ophiocordyceps dipterigena that parasitized a fly in the first place. (Unfortunately the photo is not completely in focus since the fly was attached to a small tree that apparently moved a tiny bit in the wind.)


Some entomophagous fungus, could be anything from a Beauveria to a Paecilomyces.

A fly seems to be attracted to this entomophagous fungus.


Gibellula, maybe G. pulchra, has completely enmeshed a spider that was attached to an air root and is producing millions of conidiospores on the fungal synnemata.

Gibellula pulchra? growing on a spider that was attached to below a leaf.

A close-up of a Gibellula pulchra? synnema covered in conidiophores with conidiospores.


Cordyceps Hymenostilbe
A spider victimized by some type of Cordyceps, maybe a Polycephalomyces species . 


Ophiocordyceps caloceroides
Probably the fruiting bodies of a Ophiocordyceps caloceroides group. Cordyceps of this group are specialized in attacking spiders and spider eggs.


A Metacordyceps growing from a larva.

The fertile tissue of the stroma of the Metacordyceps.


Probably Ophiocordyceps nutans growing from a shield bug.

Close-up of the fertile tissue of the stroma of the Ophiocordyceps nutans.


An Aschersonia sp. with mature perithecia. These tiny yellow spots were all over. This was the first time I checked for these fungi and there hundreds of them in the rain forest.

An Aschersonia feeding on a tiny insect like a aphid or are these insect eggs?

We were puzzled for awhile what we were seeing here. At first we were hoping we had found a very strange Cordyceps, but proper magnification popped that dream quickly.  Still there is some entomophagous fungus action going on, maybe a Beauveria or some other "fungus imperfectus".

  Thanks to Dr. Tatiana Sanjuan, Bogota for taxonomic advice.

If you want to join Tatiana and me for a Mushroaming Trip in Colombia, send us a note.


Amazon & Yungas Cordyceps - Mushroaming Bolivia 2014

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Ophiocordyceps melolonthae 

O. melolonthae is applied to species that produce a bright yellow stroma parasitizing on the larva of the Hercules beetle.
Ophiocordyceps melolonthae photographed in situ (left) above Yolosa near Coroico in about 1400m in early February 2014, Yungas Bolivia

 Ophiocordyceps_melolonthae Ophiocordyceps_melolonthae sliced

Ophiocordyceps_melolonthae sliced

Cross section showing the fully-embedded perithecia of Ophiocordyceps melolonthae lined up along the outside.