The fungus from The Last of Us is in the UK!!!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday, 7 February 2023 15:54

But unless you're a moth larva, moth pupa or a False Truffle (and you might well be yet) you're probably OK. Either way, I am hoping that a shameless blog title like this will get lots of hits and shares. 

Before the TV show, before even the computer game, I have been onsessed with this weird group of fungi. I have seen four of the fungi that are generally referred to as Cordyceps but three of these are actually in two different genera now (Tolypocladium and Ophiocrodyceps - this latter was specifically referred to in The Last of Us though).

Anyway, here are the four species I have seen in Sussex and Surrey, in order of how frequent they are on the NBN.

Scarlet Caterpillarclub (Cordyceps militaris)

Who doesn't love Nice 'n Spicy Nik Naks? This one parisitises moth pupae underground, bursting right out of the poor sods with these bizarre orange-red fruiting bodies. Ebernoe Churchyard is a great place to see them. I have also seen them in Brookwood Cemetery and Kent & Sussex Cemetery but that's about it.

Snaketongue Truffleclub (Tolypocladium ophioglossoides)

This is one of the ones that parisitises False Truffles, rather than insects. I have only seen it once, at Brookwood Cemetery. Such a great English name!

Ophiocordyceps gracilis

This one parisitises moth larva, I think I read maybe even specifically the Common Swift, which feeds underground at the roots of various plants. I was shown this one several years back in 2012 at Mill. We stumbled on another in 2017 at Levin Down and then I found one in chalky secondary woodland at the back of Brighton in 2020. I have only ever found one at a time and never in the same place twice.

Drumstick Truffleclub (Tolypocladium capitatum)
The other species that targets False Truffles. Probably my favourite of the four, because I stumbled on this one myself at Graffham Common a few years back while looking for spiders. They look like cartoon matchsticks.

There are some other species, I believe. But I am yet to see them. Would love to see photos of other UK species if anyone has them, especially if the host is known.

So, I don't think we are quite at the stage where these fungi are going to start infecting Human brains but it's nice to see just how close to home the very real nature that inspired the computer game and the excellent TV adaption came from.

Thank you for all these wonderful gifts

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 3 February 2023 18:15

I don't think I have ever done anything that was so gut-wrenchingly difficult and simultaneously, beautiful and profound as this. It was a great privilege to read a very personal piece about my Mum at her funeral. I really wanted to share it with other friends and family who couldn't be there and some who couldn't hear it. Now it's also up online forever, for those that want to read it again. And some Cat Stevens too.

Thank you.

Thank you, Mum; Mother, Irene, Irene Tooth, Irene Jeanette Tooth (what a lovely middle name that is), Irene Lyons, Irene Carlin. Thank you.

Mother, sister, daughter and granddaughter. Mother, aunt, grandmother and great grandmother. Mother, fighter, survivor. Artist, devourer of books, lover of animals, lover of family. Lover.

  • Thank you for dragging my consciousness out of nothing but star dust.
  • Thank you for a happy childhood; showered with love and made to feel safe. Protected from harm.
  • Thank you for all those Star Wars figures and all the sweets, chocolate & marzipan, even when money was tight.
  • Thank you for all the dental work.
  • Thank you for a childhood running wild and free, with endless summer days spent up the Brook catching Bullheads with Daz and Gilly, or roughing it with William under the stars in the spinney around a camp fire. Thank you for that long leash. For letting me be more than a little feral.
  • Thank you for nurturing my love of nature, for placing me “here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name.”* I would be lost without it. I’m gutted you won’t get to read my first book. I’m writing it now and dedicating it to you, Mum.
  • Thank you for selling all my Star Wars figures so I could buy my first car.
  • Thank you for making me fiercely independent and for the gift of enjoying my own company.
  • Thank you for not going too mad when I accidentally appeared naked in the News of the World aged 14 at that Pagan festival in Fradley.
  • Thank you for a house full of animals, especially those five lovely cats; Humbug, Treacle, Crystal, Dixie and Marmalade.
  • Thanks for those cherished memories of holidays to North Wales, climbing up the River Ysgethin and to the mountains beyond and spending hours playing pool with Steve.
  • Thank you for letting me grow “food plants for insects I was breeding” in the garden.
  • Thank you for my three sisters: Humbug, Treacle and- Oh no, wait. Wrong bit, sorry: Bev, Max and Teri.
  • Thank you for encouraging my love of science, space and the fantastical. Tonight, a rare green comet, not seen from the Earth in 50,000 years, makes its closest approach. I imagine it’s your emerald chariot, perfectly timed to return you back to the stars.
  • Thank you for Steve, he is stuck with us now and we will stand by him. We promise we’ll look after him, Mum.
  • Thank you for my fierce sense of justice and strict moral code. Thank you for teaching me to not hold grudges. And that people make mistakes but can change.
  • Thank you for making me value truth, above all else.
  • Thank you for teaching me to read before starting infant school, so I could read the Radio Times and pretend to be sick on the days that Chock-a-block was on. *cough*
  • Thank you for making me question everything. All of the time. For being that one kid at school who always refused to pray in assembly. For igniting the fire in my belly.
  • Thank you for teaching me to care, not just about myself and those close to me, but for everyone on this planet. And to never vote Tory.
  • Thank you for my creativity, it bleeds out into my life in so many different ways. As it did yours and still does now in all of your children.
  • Thank you for the gift of my middle name; Trevor. Yeah. Thanks for that one, Mum.
  • And thank you for never teaching me to say my ‘th’s’ properly.
  • Thank you for all these wonderful gifts, Mum. Luv you .We’ll bloody miss you.

Thank you.

* quote by Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 11 December 2022 16:47

Most naturalists in the UK will be aware that over the last few years, there have been a few Walrus turning up. The one in Wales and Isles of Scilly and the ill-fated Shetland animal (ask the Norwegians) last year. So, it was quite a shock to hear of one actually swimming around Pagham Harbour yesterday afternoon. It was last seen yesterday swimming west, away from me in Brighton, towards Selsey Bill. I got up this morning ready to leave early if there was any sign but I wasn't expecting much. Then I got a message from Danny Widerscope saying it was at Calshot in Hampshire. I called Tony Davis to let him know and of course, the spawny git Seth was with him. I gave Karen the pre-discussed 15 minute's notice to walrustle into action, and then we were on the road. I wasn't convinced we would see it but by about 11:15 we got to Calshot Castle and we were looking at a male Walrus (Odobenus rsomarus). I may have had a little cry of excitement.

A small crowd of maybe 50 people were present, about two thirds were members of the public. It was well policed, by police, coast guards and marine mammal medics. We watched it for about an hour. Here are a few blurry shots. It was a joy to spend an hour with it. The fishermen were there first, by the way. It really wasn't fussed by people, who were kept at a realistic distance. You couldn't get much of it in the scope at once.

And here is our 'Walnut Selfie'. For some reason I have been saying Walnut all day instead of Walrus. I mean, they're pretty much the same thing, right?

Seth said it had moved up the beach a few times as the tide came in. It did just that soon after, letting out a mighty roar as it did so. You can't really hear it doing that in this video but it was well primal.

And then, after about an hour, for no obvious reason it just got up and buggered off. Remarkably quickly. They are fast in the water and could easily avoid detection when on the move. I felt so privileged to have seen it and getting on the road quickly was well worth it. What an unexpectedly wonderful moment!

Choughed to bits

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday, 18 September 2022 17:44

Grassholm. The furthest west in Wales I've ever been. Actually, it's the first time that I have ever been to Pembrokeshire. It was my first real holiday in five years and the first time Karen and I have been away together for more than two days. And my first blog in over six months. A lot of firsts. We absolutely loved it. I tried not to make it too nature-based but it just kinda happens that way anyway with such a wild coast. Day one and we headed out on two boat trips with Voyages of Discovery. The second one here saw us head out firstly to Grassholm, where thousands of Gannets are getting ready to leave. This island is around 11 miles off the coast and the half of it where they breed, appears white even at this distance.

Such wonderful birds. Even more tragic to see this less than a week after I found this sick bird on the South Downs north of Brighton. Bird flu. This is the price of cheap chicken. Anyways, back to the holiday.

A little further out to some reefs (looking back to Grassholm) and we saw lots of feeding birds including these Kittiwakes being harassed by Arctic Skuas. It's 20 years ago this summer that I did the RSPB contract at Rhosneigr, looking after the tern colony there. So when we stopped at one reef and heard the distinctive call of a Roseate Tern, it was just so exciting. I couldn't get a photo though, the sea was very mobile.

Earlier, on the way out, we saw a group of four Harbour Porpoise, about as close as I have ever been to them. That's Ramsey Island. Ramsey Sound was incredible with these eerie, glass-like patches of up-welling water, interspersed with some ferocious rapids and broiling seas around the hidden rocks.

One such area known as the Bitches has a cruel history. Shags seem to like the Bitches.

We saw plenty of Grey Seals too but my photos were pretty awful. The skipper nosed the dinghy into a sea cave, which was well cool!

Before we got to Pembrokeshire, a brief visit to the Worm's Head on the Gower produced the first of the daily Chough action, their calls rapidly becoming a common feature in the local sound-scape. A quick bit of rock-pooling produced what I think is a Daisy Anemone.

EDIT 20/09/22 - Thanks Evan, Daisy Anemone looks nothing like this, of course this is the Elegant Anemone.

With help of some locals, I spotted a HUGE Sea Bass in a deep gully (the tides were great, both big tides and easy tides - really great considering I did zero prep). I didn't manage a photo but the young fisherman who was looking for bait, was almost crying because he didn't think to lunge at it with his big net.

It was wicked to see a Spotted Cowrie with it's mantle out all over the shell. We never saw these again after this.

And the first of many netted fish. The obligatory Rock Goby.

Green Sea Urchins were also not seen again on the trip after the Gower. That's one way to get mussels quickly!

Oh yeah, Bloody-nosed Beetle is EVERYWHERE in South Wales. Here was a four way, the filthy buggers.

Sorry, five way! This pervert was late to the party.

Day two. I had ONE target for the WHOLE trip. The only thing I vaguely researched was Scaly Cricket. I knew it was at Marloes Sands but it was a slim chance being mainly nocturnal. But there were rockpools there too. And they were full of Montagu's Blenny, hugely distracting. I could look at these goofy little twerps all day.

We spent an hour in an area that looked good for what I imagined Scaly Cricket would like. Turned out we were in the right area but just unlucky. Well, if you can call it unlucky. I saw a large black gnaphosid but I lost sight of it in the scree. I searched, saw it again but it went under the shingle never to be seen again. The tide was coming in and I didn't want us to get cut off and walk up the steep steps (this was a 47 miles in six days kinda holiday) when I saw a small spider with four small spots. It was unmistakable. It was clearly Callilepis nocturna. I am at the base of a cliff without signal and my camera is 20m away in my coat pocket and this thing looks like it's going to run into the shingle. It froze long enough for Karen to grab my camera then jumped onto my hand and started doing circuits. I looked like David Bowie in Labyrinth messing about with his balls. I got it in the tray. Behold!

I was rather stoked. Thinking I had a first for Wales, we headed up the cliffs for food and signal. Only to find that it was discovered on the exact same beach 'recently'. This is where it gets really weird. It was found there 20 years ago by another Brightonian, and a chap I know well. Dave Bangs. I might not have got a first for Wales but I did get all the excitement of one and I also stumbled on one of the rarest UK spiders (it's still only at three sites). That's my 518th UK spider. Totally beats that stupid cricket. We went back on day four as that beach was just so beautiful. Here she is in all her glory. What a beauty!

I took the sucker this time but hardly used it. We found 16 more but 14 of these were from hand searching.

The habitat shot.

Whilst I poked around here for a little while, Karen did some reading and then told me about a place which is pretty good for Otters! Now, Otter is my biggest bogey species. That's day five sorted then! I did get one other rare spider here. A new site for Porrhoclubiona genevensis. It's known from the hectad but last seen there on Skokholm in 1934 by Bristowe! An important record then, not bad considering I only turned it on four times in the whole trip.

UPDATE 20/09/22 - It turns out Richard Gallon had both species from near there on a job in 2021! Oh well! But the main group I found appears to be in a slightly different area, so that's good.

But before day five. It's day three. And after a visit to Tenby in the morning which was lush, we headed to Wiseman's Bridge. The rockpooling was a let down. So I suggested walking along the beach to Saundersfoot where I could see an interesting looking rocky outcrop. A single large rockpool there, produced three fish that we didn't see anywhere else. First off though, probably the best underwater shot of the trip was of this Shanny. The Meadow Pipit of the rook pool. They get boring quickly. My TG-6 has been working hard under water of late.

First dip in this rock pool produced a lifer for me. I pushed a shoal of largish-looking fish into a blind corner and lunged with the net. I caught two but one jumped straight out of my empty Ferrero Rocher container. Took some figuring out this one but it's clearly Horse Mackerel. A fish of the open sea and not really a rock pool fish at all! Check out that dog leg in the lateral line and those weird ridges. Quite a strange fish. Nice to say that literally for once.

The second dip produced a single Long-spined Sea-scorpion. Common enough but the only one we saw and Karen was quite taken with its grumpy face and eyelashes.

But it was the third dip of the net that got me really excited. Initially, at the bottom of the net I thought this was a pipe fish but I soon realised it was an adult Fifteen-spined (or Sea) Stickleback!!! Just wow. This is a fish that I saw once, on Anglesey some 20 years ago and it was nothing like this. An absolute stunner.

I think we saw over ten species of fish on the trip. I think I got more into fish than spiders, which is a weird thing for any grown man to say but especially me.

But who knew how many spiders were lurking above them on that foot path/tunnel through the rock between Saundersfoot and Wiseman's Bridge? Loads of Meta menardi, Metellina merianae and a new hectad for Nesticus cellulanus. Herald and Small Tortoiseshell too. Plus these early Humans.

Earlier that morning we went on a long walk around the coast. Here is a flock of 30 Chough! Incredible. What's more incredible is that in the five minutes we walked past this flock, they were disturbed by two different dogs that were off the lead and by the second time, they left the field altogether. Imagine this stress, day after day after day. Put your choughing dog on a lead if you can't control it! There are enough pressures on nature beyond your delinquent dogs. It's a serious problem that dog owners, who are often nature lovers, have no perspective on. I don't think they see it as serious, or lack the long term thinking to recognise that this time, the time their dog does this, might just be the time that makes these animals leave the area altogether. Or worse. We never saw as many Choughs as we did this day (at least a group of 21 and another group of c36) but we did see or hear Choughs every day of the trip.

Right, nearly there. Day five. An early start to Bosherston Lily Ponds see the Otters was starting to feel like we were going to dip out. Some Common Calamint was nice to see though. 

Then a chap said, "There's a family of Otters up there!" We started running and we got there just in time! All those years electrofishing with the RSPB and nothing. Hours put in at the crack of dawn searching across the UK in the cold, nothing. And then there they were, not giving a monkeys about the hoards of people walking past, or their dogs. Amazing to watch this family of four with their synchronised diving. They reminded me of Studio Ghibli dragons but in the water instead of the air. A continuously rolling, relentlessly restless, wet, muscly and hairy sine wave of reconstituted fish. Sublime.

One final trip after a chap told us about Freshwater West, a nice west facing beach at the end of the peninsula. A bit of rockpooling there produced this lovely young Ballan Wrasse.

A nice under water shot of a Beadlet Anemone.

But the highlight here was walking down to the beach. I was distracted suddenly by lots of white snails, which of course were actually White Snails (Theba pisina). Another reason to use capitals to distinguish between a species and just a white snail, of which we have many (White Snail being one of them). Then Karen said; "What's that?"

It's only a nymph of the Boat Bug (Enoplpops scapha). One of my most wanted species and the last UK squash bug I needed to complete the set! Result.

It was an awesome trip and another important reason for this trip was to give myself time to start writing again. Getting back into writing this blog (and other side projects that I have struggled to find creative energy for this year) being one thing but the main reason was to kick start the book I am writing on pan-species listing, now that the field season has almost finished. And that has worked a treat, with an hour a day producing a lot of words and the flood gates are now open. This holiday might have only had four lifers in it (Callilepis nocturna, Horse Mackerel, Otter and Boat Bug) but boy, what an eclectic mix they were. A pan-lister's dream holiday, with such a cornucopia of different taxonomic delights. We will definitely go back to this part of the world! Thanks to Karen for putting up with me, I see a rockpool and I am just a giant toddler and for her photos. And a huge thanks to the hosts at Pantier near Roch too, a really lovely place to stay. Hopefully I will try and blog a bit more frequently now, too.

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