|Cordyceps sp. growing|
from a lepidopteran
For this blogpost, we will look specifically at one of my favorite genera of parasitic fungi, the genus Cordyceps. The name for this genus comes Latin root words meaning "club" and "head", which relate to the characteristic shape of the fungi's fruiting bodies (i.e. "mushrooms"). Although Cordyceps spp. can be found in lots of places, the majority of species are described from Asia as the fungi prefer humid environments like tropical forests. There are approximately 400 species within this genus that can be found all over the world. All of these species (as far as I know) are parasitic. Most species parasitize insects or other arthropods, but some feed on other fungi. These fungi, like all fungi, produce mycelia (mats of fungal structures called "hyphae", which are kind of like super-awesome roots...they are used for nutrition absorption and help to anchor the fungi), however, unlike other fungi the mycelia from these fungi invade and eventually replace host tissues. The replacement of the host tissues with Cordyceps mycelia effectively mummifies the host and feeds the fungus in the process so that it can produce fruiting bodies, which will then produce reproductive spores by the thousands.
|Look! A photo of a Cordyceps sp. taken at UNL!|
|Paras and Parasect|
|Poster from The Last of Us|
featuring mutated Cordyceps.
|A piece from DeviantArt|
featuring a Cordyceps-like fungus.
As most things in nature, Cordyceps has two sides...that of the villain and that of the hero. Their excitedly terrifying capabilities to suck their hosts dry to the point of becoming mummified cases of their former selves makes them the perfect organisms for science fiction stories. Their medicinal properties bring the potential for life and a sense of hope to those suffering from a wide variety of illnesses. Yes, the Cordyceps fungi exist as the duality of life and death, hope and despair, love and fear. It's a group of parasitic fungi worthy of reverence and deserving of our admiration.
Also, here's a link to a sweet Cordyceps video clip from the BBC narrated by none other than David Attenborough. Enjoy! :)
|I'm not going to tell him....|