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2010-08-06 Cordyceps militaris 1.jpg
Cordyceps militaris
Scientific classification

Fr. (1818)
Type species
Cordyceps militaris
(L.) Fr. (1818)

about 400

Cordyceps /ˈkɔːrdɪsɛps/ is a genus of ascomycete fungi (sac fungi) that includes about 400 species. Most Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids, parasitic mainly on insects and other arthropods (they are thus entomopathogenic fungi); a few are parasitic on other fungi. The generic name Cordyceps is derived from the Greek word κορδύλη kordýlē, meaning "club", and the Greek word κεφάλι, meaning "head".

The genus has a worldwide distribution and most of the approximately 400 species[1] that have been described are from Asia (notably Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand). Cordyceps species are particularly abundant and diverse in humid temperate and tropical forests.


C. sinensis was shown in 2007 by nuclear DNA sampling to be unrelated to most of the rest of the members of the genus; as a result it was renamed Ophiocordyceps sinensis and placed in a new family, the Ophiocordycipitaceae, as was "Cordyceps unilateralis".[2] Other species previously included in the genus Cordyceps have now been placed in the genus Tolypocladium.[citation needed]

Cordyceps and Metacordyceps spp. are now thought to be the teleomorphs of a number of anamorphic, entomopathogenic fungus "genera" such as: Beauveria (Cordyceps bassiana), Lecanicillium, Metarhizium and Nomuraea.[citation needed]


When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated fruit body (ascocarp) may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. The ascocarp bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia containing asci. These, in turn, contain thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably infective.[citation needed]


Polysaccharide components and cordycepin are under basic research and have been isolated from C. militaris.[3][4]

Traditional Chinese medicine[edit]

Cordyceps are used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine.[5] Limited trials in humans suggest some benefit in kidney disease.[6][7]

In popular culture[edit]

The Last of Us, a 2013 video game developed by Naughty Dog, portrays a fictional Cordyceps fungus that has mutated to infect human hosts, with apocalyptic results.[8]

Additionally, the books The Girl with All the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey feature Cordyceps spreading to the human population set in a post-apocalyptic world.



  1. ^ Sung, Gi-Ho; Nigel L. Hywel-Jones; Jae-Mo Sung; J. Jennifer Luangsa-ard; Bhushan Shrestha & Joseph W. Spatafora (2007). "Phylogenetic classification of Cordyceps and the clavicipitaceous fungi". Stud Mycol. 57 (1): 5–59. doi:10.3114/sim.2007.57.01. PMC 2104736. PMID 18490993.
  2. ^ Holliday, John; Cleaver, Matt (2008). "Medicinal Value of the Caterpillar Fungi Species of the Genus Cordyceps (Fr.) Link (Ascomycetes). A Review" (PDF). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. New York: Begell House. 10 (3): 219–234. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v10.i3.30. ISSN 1521-9437.
  3. ^ Khan, MA; Tania, M; Zhang, D; Chen, H (May 2010). "Cordyceps Mushroom: A Potent Anticancer Nutraceutical" (PDF). The Open Nutraceuticals Journal. 3: 179–183. doi:10.2174/1876396001003010179. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 March 2012.
  4. ^ Nakamura, K; Shinozuka, K; Yoshikawa, N (2015). "Anticancer and antimetastatic effects of cordycepin, an active component of Cordyceps sinensis". Journal of Pharmacological Sciences. 127 (1): 53–6. doi:10.1016/j.jphs.2014.09.001. PMID 25704018.
  5. ^ Yue, K; Ye, M; Zhou, Z; Sun, W; Lin, X (April 2013). "The genus Cordyceps: a chemical and pharmacological review". The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology. 65 (4): 474–93. doi:10.1111/j.2042-7158.2012.01601.x. PMID 23488776.
  6. ^ Hong, T; Zhang, M; Fan, J (12 October 2015). "Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for kidney transplant recipients". The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (10): CD009698. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009698.pub2. PMID 26457607.
  7. ^ Hong, T; Zhang, M; Fan, J (12 October 2015). "Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for kidney transplant recipients". The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (10): CD009698. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009698.pub2. PMID 26457607.
  8. ^ Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us. 2014-02-28. Event occurs at 13m28s.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bensky, D.; Gamble, A.; Clavey, S.; Stoger, E.; Lai Bensky, L. (2004). Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica (3rd ed.). Seattle: Eastland Press. ISBN 978-0-939616-42-8.
  • Kobayasi, Y. (1941). "The genus Cordyceps and its allies". Science Reports of the Tokyo Bunrika Daigaku, Sect. B. 5: 53–260. ISSN 0371-3547.
  • Mains, E. B. (1957). "Species of Cordyceps parasitic on Elaphomyces". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 84 (4): 243–251. doi:10.2307/2482671. ISSN 0040-9618. JSTOR 2482671.
  • Mains, E. B. (1958). "North American entomogenous species of Cordyceps". Mycologia. 50 (2): 169–222. doi:10.2307/3756193. ISSN 0027-5514. JSTOR 3756193.
  • Tzean, S. S.; Hsieh, L. S.; Wu, W. J. (1997). Atlas of entomopathogenic fungi from Taiwan. Taiwan: Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan.
  • Paterson, R. R. M. (2008). "Cordyceps - a traditional Chinese medicine and another fungal therapeutic biofactory?". Phytochemistry. 69 (7): 1469–1495. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2008.01.027. PMID 18343466.

External links[edit]