Caterpillar fungus

Kathie Hodge kh11 at cornell.edu
Thu Sep 16 16:22:01 EST 1993


S. Ertz, se111 at cus.cam.ac.uk writes:
>There was an article on the news last night about
>caterpillar fungus. Apparently it is being used by
>Chinese athletes to boost their performance.

Sounds to me like one of several species of Cordyceps, some of which have
been used in traditional Chinese medicine.  I looked up C. sinensis in
_Icons of Medicinal Fungi from China_ (1987, Science Press, Beijing) and
found that it is often prescribed as a tonic or tranquilizer, or for
treating malignant tumours. "When cooked with a duck, it is nutritious
for old people" and it "builds up particularly the gate of vitality."

Cordyceps belongs in the ascomycete order Clavicipitales, and includes
pathogens of both insects and fungi.  One not uncommon species, C.
militaris, is found on the pupae of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). 
It produces a bright orange fingerlike fruiting body, maybe 3 to 10 cm
tall that has a pimpled appearance in the upper half (the pimples are the
protruding necks of the perithecia in which the spores are produced). 
Mushroom identification guides often include a picture of C. militaris,
if you'd like to see one.  The best pictures of all are in Yosio
Kobayashi's _Iconography of Vegetable Wasps and Plant Worms_. These are
beautiful fungi, in a macabre sort of way, and this is about the right
season to find them, at least in North America.

Kathie Hodge, admirer of fungi
kh11 at cornell.edu



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