Observation 123334: Panellus stipticus (Bull.) P. Karst.
When: 2013-01-24
Collection location: London, England [Click for map]
No herbarium specimen

Notes: BBC concocts Congolese bioluminescent fungus hoax. San Francisco State’s Dr. Dennis Desjardin speaks out:

Don’t believe what you see!

Check out this video…what do you think?:

Here are the facts, quoted from Dennis Desjardin:

“The fungus in the video is Panellus stipticus grown in artificial conditions (on unknown media with leaves and sticks added) in the United Kingdom and filmed there in a studio. It represents a luminescent strain of P. stipticus, a normally lamellate, white-rot wood decomposer, probably cultured from material from eastern North America, although I do not know the origin of the culture. The abnormal, coralloid growth form results in artificial culture possibly from high CO2 conditions that cause stipe etiolation. If you look carefully you can see immature, unopened pilei on the tips of some branches. The time-lapse video taken in a studio in the UK was mocked up to look like it was shot in natural conditions in the Congo, including the addition of a forest in the background. It is a fabrication. Panellus stipticus has not been reported from the Congo region, and in nature grows on woody sticks. Do not fly off to the Congo and expect to discover a luminescent coral fungus.”

Can you ever believe the BBC or David Attenborough again?

All thanks go to Mike Wood for originally breaking the story.

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Eye3 = Observer’s choice
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Add Comment
By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2013-07-21 00:57:05 MDT (-0600)

if you followed the Facebook link, you would see Mike commenting to the effect that Dennis was contacted prior to the segment’s production and asked what bioluminescent species grew in the Congo. This tells me the people inolved on the BBC’s end knew nothing of any real bioluminescent fungal phenomena in the area until contacting Dennis. Whether or not they then dug deeper, got word of something called chimpanzee fire and did any degree of honest documentation of such a thing is unclear, but it hardly matters. The end result was a forgery, which, as previously stated, throws the integrity of the entire thing into serious question.

Perhaps someone with field experience in (or a resident of) the country in question could speak to whether or not something glowing in the jungle is colloquially referred to as “chimpanzee fire.” If it is real, I’d be delighted to see a feature piece of some integrity on the subject, not unlike this one: http://youtube.com/watch?v=gSPHJBFQy7U.

The height of the ridiculousness of it all is that the BBC made up a bioluminescent fungus species in an area where a plurality of them are likely to exist, ripe for the filming.

By: Erlon (Herbert Baker)
2013-07-21 00:02:57 MDT (-0600)

Perhaps the there is an undescribed species of bioluminescent fungi in the Congo and perhaps they simply used a different species to do the show?

By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2013-07-20 21:29:06 MDT (-0600)

Not sure what you’re asking. The doubt is based on Dr. Desjardin’s discrediting of the events as portrayed by the BBC as a result of his correspondence with members of the crew responsible for the piece. They apparently had no qualms with admitting the whole thing was a farce to him, but did not decide to give the general public the same courtesy.

By: Erlon (Herbert Baker)
2013-07-20 18:58:07 MDT (-0600)

And all this doubt is based on what? “After the discovery in the Congo the filming continued in laboratory conditions to capture the microscopic details of how the fungus grows.”


It’s part of a trend.
By: Paul Derbyshire (Twizzler)
2013-01-29 22:01:16 MST (-0700)

First “docudramas”, then “Ghost Hunters”, then “Ancient Aliens”, and now this.

Nobody wants nothing but boring old reality in their “reality” TV, it seems.

Not sure.
By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2013-01-25 11:58:00 MST (-0700)

This hoax is the only reference I can find to anything by that name, so I assume that no element of the story, not even the premise, is any degree of genuine.

If the narration (lie) were to be replaced by an explanation of what’s really happening in the video, it would be David Attenborough chronicling the careful placing of woody substrate beneath a faux jungle debris layer, explanationss of various Final Cut Pro techniques for compositing footage of African backdrops with British film studios, and maybe a word or two on the gullible public, utterly uninterested in either facts or fact checking over the entertainment value they truly seek from so-called “non-fictional” television.

That would be both cool and educational.

So is there…
By: Dave W (Dave W)
2013-01-25 06:31:04 MST (-0700)

an actual African fungus called Chimpanzee Fire?

If the narration (lie) were to be replaced by an explanation of what’s really happening in the video, then the result would be both cool and educational. I would never have guessed that these luminescent tentacles are actually P. stipticus fruit bodies.

If you’re right
By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2013-01-24 23:53:04 MST (-0700)

I weep for documentary filmmaking. I hope there’s more overall honesty in the trade than this.

I think you’ve got me wrong.
By: Brian McNett (KitsapMycologist)
2013-01-24 23:10:06 MST (-0700)

I don’t at all support this. The BBC is being disingenuous in the extreme. I’m only saying that this is common behavior, and NONE of these documentaries are to be trusted.

Hey Brian
By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2013-01-24 23:04:44 MST (-0700)

It does prevent it from sucking, unless one’s ignorance can be equated with bliss. I, for one, do not watch nature documentaries to get my fantasy rocks off. I watch them to find out more about the real-life, non-fabricated, legitimate wonders of nature. That one of the world’s chief authorities on that subject would not only bend the truth, but outright invent a phenomenon that simply does not exist, is an insult to their audiences’ intelligence and a crime worthy of punishment. This isn’t a funhouse. This isn’t Hollywood. This is documentary film. I understand that objective truth is eternally out of the reach of documentary filmmakers, because there will always be some amount of subjectivity by virtue of someone making the film and holding the camera, deciding what to show and how to show it and what to show before and after, but this is ridiculous. If I make a “documentary” about a Martian landing five million years ago that never actually happened, would you explain it away as part of “the business” as you’ve done here?

BBC deserves many, many lashings for this, more still for the fact that they’ve infected an already endangered field with scandal and dishonesty. I won’t be satisfied until this “filmmaker” is tarred and feathered for her corner cutting crimes.

Wikipedia updated
By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2013-01-24 22:43:33 MST (-0700)
The Nature of Nature Documentaries
By: Brian McNett (KitsapMycologist)
2013-01-24 22:18:01 MST (-0700)

It’s a sad truth of television that this isn’t at all atypical.

Let’s say that there is a bioluminescent fungus in the Congo, and that the BBC isn’t just making things up. To film this fungus in the wild, you have to outfit a team to trek through the jungle, locate the fungus, then wait. Meanwhile, you’re travelling in a dangerous, near-lawless part of the country, so in addition to the perils of being in the jungle, you could be set upon by bandits, or local militias… all for a shot of a glowing mushroom.

And then, even if you did all of this, the glow might turn out not to be all that spectacular, and so you’re left with uncompelling footage of a less-than-spectacular fungus.

So, you go into the studio, and you create a fake version of the scene you weren’t able to get in the wild, even had you wanted to. Panellus stipticus has a key advantage over other luminescent fungi. It’s relatively bright and showy. So, instead of the specimen you couldn’t possibly get, whose actual degree of luminescence you can only guess at, you use the one that’s easily available, and is a known performer.

In short, you lie. Nature documentaries do it all the time. They have to. It’s not practical to film much of this in actual wild settings. Not that I’m defending the practice, just noting that it’s common, and frequently necessary. Doesn’t prevent it from sucking.

more info on P. stipticus
By: Robert Sasata (Sasata)
2013-01-24 20:01:29 MST (-0700)
By: Elsa (pinknailsgirl)
2013-01-24 19:53:59 MST (-0700)

Thanks both :)

Thank Mike
By: Danny Newman (myxomop)
2013-01-24 19:47:33 MST (-0700)

If it weren’t for him, I’d have never known myself.

The things that I learned today…
By: Elsa (pinknailsgirl)
2013-01-24 19:45:17 MST (-0700)

After reading some things, I think you’re right, and BBC are being some kind of speculative with this, or are saving trip’s money. I didn’t even know that P. stipticus was bioluminescent. Thanks Danny.

Created: 2013-01-24 19:22:20 MST (-0700)
Last modified: 2013-01-26 15:02:04 MST (-0700)
Viewed: 1113 times, last viewed: 2017-07-21 07:55:22 MDT (-0600)
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