“Gibellula Bangbangus”: Castle Espie finds species new to science!

2021 saw BBC Spring, Autumn and Winter Watches broadcast from Northern Ireland for the first time, choosing WWT Castle Espie as their base. During filming, WWT volunteer Jonathan Clark spotted a parasitic fungus growing on a cave spider in an old Victorian Gunpowder store by the old quarry, now nature reserve, at Castle Espie. After a DNA test carried out by Dr Harry Evans from CAB international the fungus has been identified as a species new to science.
The fungus parasitizes the host cave spider controlling the spider’s central nervous system guiding the spider to the top of the cave where the fungus then releases its spores.

In addition to the fungi’s ability to control the spider’s brain it produces antibodies that weaken its immune system whilst protecting the host from infection. This may 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 as to how this fungus found its way to the old Victorian gunpowder store at Castle Espie to evolve into a species new to science.

On Tuesday night’s episode of Springwatch viewers were encouraged to come up with a name for this 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 was revealed on Thursday night’s broadcast which was ‘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”

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