“Zombie cicadas” infected with mind-control fungi in West Virginia


Humans are not at all susceptible to psychedelic chemicals found in magic mushrooms. “Zombie cicadas” – under the influence of a parasitic fungus – have reunited in West Virginia to infect their friends, and now scientists have a better understanding of how this occurs.

Researchers at West Virginia University recently saw the return of these bizarre creatures, which are infected with a fungus called Masospora. According to a study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, fungus worms inadvertently infect other cicadas, rapidly transmitting the disease to form a type of zombie army.

When a male is infected with Cisada masospora, researchers find that it flaps its wings like a female, a known mating call. This behavior attracts healthy male cicadas, facilitating the spread of fungi, including chemicals including solocinbin, which are found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Just how the disease manipulates and spreads its host is the most recent discovery after decades of research on the Masospora. The findings reflect the functions of the parasite, in part, as a sexually transmitted infection.

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Researchers at the University of West Virginia were part of a team that explored how Masospora, a parasitic fungus, manipulates male cicades to feather their feathers like a female – an orgasm invitation – that would have made female cycadés unheard. And infects them.

WVU Photo / Angie Macias


Co-author Brian Lovett, a post-doctoral researcher at Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said, “Essentially, Sikada is luring others to become infected because his healthy partner is interested in mating.” Week. “Bioactive compounds can manipulate the insect to stay awake and transmit the pathogen over a long period of time.”

The team conducted research on infected cicadas that returned to southwestern West Virginia earlier this year. While periodic Sixades arrive every 13 or 17 years, time stumbles in different places, making it easier for researchers to study their behavior.

Researchers described the horrific description of the fungus process as a “disturbing demonstration of the B-horror film ratio”. Spores eat away the genitals, butts, and abdomen until they eventually fall, replacing them with fungal spores – a cruel process for insects, which have remained underground for just over a decade.

The cicadas begin to decay, but instead of dying immediately, they fly around and infect others. Due to the mind-controlling abilities of infection, insects behave as if nothing is wrong.

Lovett described the process as “wearing away like an eraser on a pencil”. The fungi are similar to rabies – both “enlist living pests to do their bidding,” the researchers said – in a process called active host transmission, which is a form of “biological puppet.”

“Since we are also animals like insects, we feel we have complete control over our decisions and we act on our own free will,” Lovett said. “But when these pathogens infect cicadas, it is very clear that the pathogen is pulling the cicada’s behavioral liver, causing it to do things that are not in the interest of the cicada but very much in the interest of the pathogen. More. “

A graph highlights the life of a cicada infected with Masospora.

West Virginia University


Lovett and his co-author Matthew Casson, an associate professor of plant pathology and mycology, discovered psychoactive compounds in Cycladus infected with Massospora last year. But until now, it was unclear how the infection occurs.

Researchers are not sure when they encounter fungi in their life cycle. It is possible that cicada apsaras may encounter Massospora before they leave the ground after 17 years, or underground, before feeding on the roots after 17 years.

“The fungus may lie in wait for its host for at least the next 17 years, perhaps a hormone cue where it probably lays dormant and asymptomatic in its cicada host,” Gasson said.

But, there is no need to be worried about being infected by zombies. Different Killing horn or MosquitoesThese zombie cicadas are generally harmless to humans, the researchers said.

“They are very polite,” Lovett said. “You can walk right up to one, pick it up to see if it has fungus (yellow plug on its back end) and set it back. They are by no means a major pest. Are. … just a very interesting bizarre insect that has developed a bizarre lifestyle. ”

Because of their relatively slow rate of reproduction, fungi are not a major threat to the cicada population overall. But scientists still find out how the pathogen evolved, and how it might evolve to further terrorize other insect species.

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