Reshu Bashyal and David L. Roberts
Although wildlife trade has received considerable research and conservation attention, much of it has been focused on charismatic species, with taxa such as fungi receiving little or no attention despite being highly sought after. The caterpillar fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis is highly valued as an ingredient in cosmetics and medicines, and as an aphrodisiac and dietary supplement. Despite its livelihood and socio-economic significance, it has received little attention in either research or wildlife trade policy. Nevertheless, trade appears to be rampant, and growing online, and this is an emerging conservation challenge. Here we present a systematic survey of online trade in the caterpillar fungus during 2021. During this period, 168 advertisements were recorded on eight e-commerce platforms, both national and international. The grade of the caterpillar fungus advertised for sale fell into six categories. Fungi described as pure/organic/wild grade, which we categorized as authentic grade, had the highest median price (24 USD/g) and those described as medicine/food/cosmetic/beverage, which we categorized as consumption grade, had the lowest median price (0.04 USD/g). The highest advertised sale price was for caterpillar fungus of Bhutan origin (155 USD/g) advertised on the eBay e-commerce platform. Trade in caterpillar fungus on national and international online platforms is evident, and trade in other non-charismatic species is also likely burgeoning online but remains poorly documented. Further systematic surveys of online trade are required, not only to improve understanding of such trade but also to facilitate the development of effective conservation interventions and prevent undocumented overexploitation of important natural resources in developing countries.