Cave moths with creepy fungus
August 8, 2013 3:29 PM   Subscribe

My brother and I explored an old mine and found these moths with white spiky protrusions lining the walls. At first I thought they were some kind of extending water-gathering device (they are covered in condensed drops), but then I realized that these moths were all dead. The place was a veritable mautholeum. The stuff now appears to me to be some kind of fungus — could it be the dreaded Cordyceps in our back yard? Or is it something less exotic?
posted by BlackLeotardFront to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Perhaps I should have noted that this cave is in the pacific NW, in the San Juans., about 2000 ft of elevation in a forested area.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:30 PM on August 8, 2013

Best answer: My guess is Beauveria bassiana, which is a relative of Cordyceps.

And by the way, WOW. EW. GROSS.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 3:39 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

We saw similar white protrusions in Black Chasm Cavern near Jacksonville, CA. Those might be different white spiky things, though - they don't come out of moths, but are formed from many, many years of condensation being pushed through the cave and evaporated very slowly. I wonder if the two are related?
posted by luciddream928 at 4:56 PM on August 8, 2013

Best answer: If it is Beauveria bassiana as sevensnowflakes very reasonably (to my layperson's judgment) suggests, not only is it a relative of Cordyceps bassiana, it's a stage in its life cycle:
Beauveria bassiana is the anamorph (asexually reproducing form) of Cordyceps bassiana. The latter teleomorph (the sexually reproducing form) has been collected only in eastern Asia.[5]
It's interesting that the sexual stage has only been confirmed in east Asia. If it ever were to be found elsewhere, you'd think straight downwind across the Pacific on a peak in the San Juans would be a good candidate for the location.

I looked for pictures of the teleomorph, but didn't find anything that seemed easily distinguishable from the asexual stage shown in sevensnowflakes' link.

That Wikipedia article had some other fascinating facts about Beauveria bassiana, however:
Preliminary research has shown the fungus is 100% effective in eliminating bed bugs exposed to cotton fabric sprayed with fungus spores. It is also effective against bed bug colonies due to B. bassiana carried by infected bugs back to their harborages. All subjects died within 5 days of exposure.[14]
I wonder whether you and your brother could look into the status of the mining claim and think about selling little packages of spores to people worried about bed bugs. I'd certainly like to have an alternative to the insecticides if we ever got them.
posted by jamjam at 5:41 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Excellent. Thanks, guys! I'll see about starting up a new bedbug elimination business.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:56 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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