Rare fungus type with gruesome way of surviving discovered at Dane Valley Woods

Ophiocordyceps gracilis fungus at Dane Valley Woods

A rare fungi which has only been recorded in the UK 14 times has been discovered by a volunteer during a task day  with the Dane Valley Woods group.

Bob Ward, who has volunteered with the group for six years, spotted the tiny fungi whilst having a coffee break, in between mowing paths. The sighting of the Ophiocordyceps gracilis is the first for Kent since 1968.

The fungus, which was officially identified by the Kent Fungus Group, is of the type that inspired a fictional worldwide fungal infection outbreak in the Sky Atlantic drama “The Last Of Us” – adapted from the video game – due to its gruesome nature.

Ophiocordyceps gracilis is a member of a genus that grows only on living bugs, taking over their nervous system and controlling their movements while keeping it alive.

Once it has found the right spot, it will send a fruiting body out of its head and produce spores to continue the cycle.

Steve Darling, Secretary of Dane Valley Woods group, said: “In this particular example, the unfortunate victim appears to be a moth larva, although despite making enquiries we don’t know which(species of) moth…. gruesome but fascinating!

“We waited for the fungus -there were three- to emit the spores before we dug in the soil to reveal the caterpillar victim, thanks to assistance from  Daniel Bradley.

“We were also joined by Danny, who has a keen interest in mycology and had come all the way from Faversham with his dog to see Bob’s find.

“Congratulations to Bob for spotting the tiniest of fungi, and to Michaela for putting it forward for consideration by the county’s top mycologists. We are very excited by this find, as it proves the old adage of “build it and they will come” – the wild flowers attracted the moth, and the moth attracted the fungi.”

The Last Of Us, which premiered in January last year, is set 20 years into a pandemic caused by a mass fungal infection, which causes its hosts to transform into zombie-like creatures and collapses society.

The first season, based on a 2013 video game by Naughty Dog, follows Joel (Pedro Pascal), a smuggler tasked with escorting immune teenager Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic United States

A second series is currently being filmed.

Dane Valley Woods group holds monthly public task mornings on the last Sunday of the month from 10am to 1pm.

For more details visit their facebook page, Instagram or email [email protected]

Photos by Daniel, Michaela and Shantelle


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