Friday, January 7, 2011

Creature Feature: Cordyceps.

Have you ever wondered how certain health foods got their starts? Whose smart idea was it to climb an insanely high tree to pick the first acai berries? Granted, these things take balls, warranting a high price tag, but some other health foods make one wonder who had the idea.

Fungi of the genus Cordyceps is are among those things. The YouTube search listing for Cordyceps has both "killer fungus" videos like the one up there and "Cordyceps is a superfood" videos. It is darn near impossible to imagine someone looking at the insect below and saying, "hey, let's eat that!"


Cordyceps fungus is exactly what David Attenborough says it is: An endoparasitic fungus that uses insects as its host. (These can include cicadas, thus explaining where the idea for the Pokemon Paras came from.) There are over 400 species of Cordyceps, but the most well-known of these is Cordyceps sinensis - also known as the caterpillar fungus. Surprise, surprise; it's part of Chinese medicine.

Different species of Cordyceps use different insects as hosts. Some, like the ant shown in the video, are brainwashed before the fungus feeds off of their corpse. Climbing a branch like that goes against every instinct the ant has - oh, and it looks like it's on drugs, too.

Duuuude. It's, like, a mushroom cloud!

Cordyceps is one of the many parasites that influences the behavior of its host; yes, there are more parasites that use brainwashing techniques far more effective than any psychologist's prescription. They try their darnedest to make babies, and if our brains are in the way of that, they'll screw that ball of neurons and glia good. This makes us pretty darn sure that Lady Gaga is a legitimate artist and not an alien spreading space Cordyceps around the world. Given the rather...extreme claims about Cordyceps, however, we would not be surprised either way. (Remember: A lot of human habits VERY CLOSELY PARALLEL INSECT BEHAVIORS.)

I've had chocolate Cordyceps. They aren't that great.

Before 1993,  the Western world was scarcely aware that this bizarre mushroom even existed. It was brought to the world's attention after three Chinese athletes broke five world records at the Olympics in Beijing, China. After it was revealed that the athletes had been doing 'shrooms, not steroids, the value of Cordyceps increased by 200% over the course of ten years. Research on Cordyceps has since shown that it may be able to cure diabetes, serve as an antidepressant, and even prevent organs from being affected by radiation.

Or maybe that's what the Cordyceps fungi want us to think.

1 comment:

  1. Cordyceps are fungus which is of immense medical importance. Though there are no booked records, it is believed that cordyceps are being used in China as natural medicine and beauty products for more than 2000 years.