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‘Mind Controlling Fungus’ Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other Insects

by : Emma Rosemurgey on : 04 Aug 2020 17:34
'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other Insects'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other InsectsPA Images

A group of cicadas have been infected by a parasitic fungus that controls their mind and forces them to infect other insects, according to researchers.

The insects, which have aptly been nicknamed zombie cicadas, have been affected by a psychedelic fungus called Massospora, which contains chemicals also found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

After the infection takes place, the insects engage in ‘a disturbing display of B-horror movie proportions’.

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'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other Insects'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other InsectsPexels

The infection begins by eating away at the genitals, buttocks and abdomen of the cicada, replacing them with fungal spores which are then used to transmit the fungus to other cicadas, according to a press release from West Virginia University.

‘Essentially, the cicadas are luring others into becoming infected because their healthy counterparts are interested in mating,’ Brian Lovett, who co-authored the study, explained. ‘The bioactive compounds may manipulate the insect to stay awake and continue to transmit the pathogen for longer.’

He added that the fungus-laden abdomen will then ‘wear away like an eraser on a pencil.’

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Studying cicadas can be tricky work given they have a 13 to 17 year lifecycle and spend the majority of it living underground. However, the infected cicadas were found by researchers at the West Virginia university in June.

'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other Insects'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other InsectsPexels

Matthew Kasson, who also co-authored the study, said in the statement:

Our previous literature always mentioned the strange behaviours associated with Massospora and some closely-allied fungi but what was missing was a synthesis of all this new information that had come to light.

The most interesting finding is the things we still don’t know. We realised that there were some possible scenarios for infection that we had not considered before.

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The study, which was published by PLOS Pathogens, highlighted that the infection leads to hypersexual behaviour, even though the insect loses the ability to mate when their backend becomes fungal plugs, they still try to mate in a bid to transmit the fungus to other healthy cicadas.

'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other Insects'Mind Controlling Fungus' Turns Cicadas Into Zombies Who Infect Other InsectsPA Images

Kasson told CNN:

When they fly around or walk on branches, they spread spores that way too.

We call them flying saltshakers of death, because they basically spread the fungus the way salt would come out of a shaker that’s tipped upside down.

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While it really does sound like something out of a horror film, fortunately they infected cicadas don’t pose a danger to humans.

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Emma Rosemurgey

Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist who started her career by producing The Royal Rosemurgey newspaper in 2004, which kept her family up to date with the goings on of her sleepy north east village. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining Tyla (formerly Pretty 52) in 2017, and progressing onto UNILAD in 2019.

Topics: Science, Cicadas, Fungus, west virginia, Zombie Cicadas

Credits

CNN and 1 other
  1. CNN

    'Zombie cicadas' under the influence of a mind controlling fungus have returned to West Virginia

  2. West Virginia University

    Return of the zombie cicadas: WVU team unearths manipulative qualities of fungal-infected flyers