Month: April 2013

Vegetating Zombie Caterpillars!

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Sinister fungi from the Manchester Museum herbarium brought to you by Gina Alnatt

Biology Curator

Today I began choosing fungus specimens for part of a display for the upcoming gallery “Nature’s Library” at the Manchester Museum. The Herbarium houses a fairly large collection of fungus in the form of sheets, packeted and boxed specimens. A number of the boxed specimens are housed in the Materia Medica room along with herbs, gums and resins.


Some of the most interesting specimens we found were boxed examples of the fungus Cordyceps. Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that affects insects, and it does so in a way befitting a horror movie. At least a horror movie if you were an insect. Perhaps the most well known species of this fungus is Ophiocordyceps sinensis, also known as the Caterpillar Fungus. The caterpillars infected by this fungus are the larvae of the ghost moth genus Thatoides, which spend much of their life underground as larvae. They are prone to…

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Megalithic Mallorca

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The University of Manchester has broken up for the Easter holidays and so it must be the right time of year again for the 1st year field course in Comparative and Adaptive Biology. This year the staff and students were even more enthusiastic than usual to escape the unseasonably cold snow flurries of Manchester and head for sunny Mallorca. We’ve been braving the mosquitoes in the shrubberies to study how plants cope with the challenges of Mediterranean living and to see some interesting examples of plant endemism.


Last year I blogged about one of our days on the seashore, so I think this time I shall go more terrestrial and share some images from a site which is one of the staff favourites.  Although there are other places to go and see Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) woodland, the Bronze Age talayotic site of Ses Paisses is pretty special. Excavated in the mid 20th century, the settlement is arranged around a central tower (or talaiot) and is now covered by a very nice woodland.

Under the shade of the oak trees we find black bryony (Tamus communis), butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and a hemi-parasitic plant Osyris alba which can produce it’s own sugars by photosynthesis but steals water and minerals from a host plant .


However, with all these rocks around there is always the chance that botanical lectures on the effects of light and shade can end up being disrupted by sudden acts of zoology….