New species of fungus discovered at Castle Espie

New species of fungus discovered at Castle Espie

22 June 2022

CASTLE Espie wetland centre, near Comber, has discovered a brand new species to science, following filming of a popular BBC nature programme.

‘Gibellula Bangbangus’ is a fungus that was discovered growing on a cave spider in an old Victorian gunpowder story at the centre which is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

The fungus, which acts as a parasite on the host cave spider – having the ability to control its brain – was discovered by volunteer Jonathan Clark following filming by the BBC Springwatch crews.

A DNA test was carried out by Dr Harry Evans from the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, and confirmed the species as new.

In addition to the fungus’s ability to control the spider’s brain, it produces antibodies that weaken its immune system, while protecting the host from infection. 

The discovery could have significant use in medical research with samples now being stored in the same facility as the original penicillin culture. 

The closest genetic relatives to the fungus are found only in Asia, raising questions over how the fungus found its way to the old Victorian gunpowder store at Castle Espie to evolve into a species new to science.

On a recent episode of Springwatch viewers were encouraged to come up with a name for the new species with many viewers suggesting ‘Gibellula Clark’ after the volunteer who discovered the fungus.

‘Gibellula Espie’ was another popular suggestion but the winning name has been revealed as ‘Gibellula Bangbangus’ after the gunpowder store in which it was discovered. 

Manager of Castle Espie Paul Stewart said: “It’s a mystery how this new species got here to evolve in the microclimate of the gunpowder store at Castle Espie. 

“Perhaps it came here via gun powder or its packaging material in the 19th century or perhaps it’s an example of convergent evolution and a remnant from our subtropical distant past.

Either way it’s a world first here in Northern Ireland and I hope the discovery yields a positive benefit.”