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