Wild species conservation should include parasites!

Himalayan caterpillar fungus

I always thought that parasites contributed nothing to the planet or to humankind. I was wrong. There is a call to make sure that humankind extends their conservation programs to parasites and not just the animals on which (and in which) the parasites live.

Scientists writing in the journal Biological Conservation have suggested that there should be an international watch list of endangered parasites. And conservationist should be careful about getting rid of parasites on species such as the panda before they are relocated in the wild.

It appears that we have accidentally made extinct some parasite species in the past. We’ve done this while trying to use best practice in the conservation of the species on which the parasites live. For example, louse species were removed from the California Condor. They were harmless parasites and they appear to have become extinct as a result.

The scientists say that so-called good parasites can be good for at least two things (1) protecting against harmful parasites and (2) playing a role in immune systems.

Dr Hopkins says that they don’t want to protect parasites which infect people but she believes that there are some useful parasites which are interesting and need to be looked at and possibly conserved.

The world’s most valuable parasite is the Himalayan caterpillar fungus (Himalayan Viagra – see below). It consumes caterpillars and is used in Chinese traditional medicine.

Himalayan caterpillar fungus

Himalayan caterpillar fungus. Photo: Weibo: Xu Yingcheng Tibetan Grass Fragrance.

There are millions of parasite species out there, playing important roles in ecosystems, and if we lose them it might be a big problem for us – Dr Skylar Hopkins, an assistant professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University.

Click this link to see a range of articles on parasites affecting cats.

Himalayan caterpillar fungus

There is an anti corruption scandal in China over the Himalayan caterpillar fungus a.k.a. Himalayan Viagra!

I described it as the world’s most valuable parasite. By value I mean in monetary terms not in usefulness terms. It sells for up to US$83,800 per kilogram according to state media in China.

This is about $80 program. The stock market price of gold as at March 2019 was considerably less at around $60 program. This fungus is an aphrodisiac dating back many centuries. It is found in the mountainous areas of the Himalayas. It is used as a currency to bribe officials.

The fungus grows on caterpillars which live about 15 centimetres below the surface of the earth in the Himalayas. It is a medicinal mushroom. In addition to being used in Chinese traditional medicine it is used in Tibetan medicines and has been for centuries.

It is found in India, Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. You will only see it some 3,000 to 5,000 metres above sea level. The mummified caterpillar surfaces during the summer and is collected by hand and sold whole.

Comment: it looks exotic and I have to say the sort of thing that you would find in Chinese medicine (in a glass jar on the shelf). It looks disgusting actually but the better word is exotic and mysterious perhaps. I don’t want to offend someone’s sensibilities.

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