'Flying salt shakers of death:' Fungal-infected zombie cicadas explained

phys.org | 2/22/2018 | Staff
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If cicadas made horror movies, they'd probably study the actions of their counterparts plagued by a certain psychedelic fungus.

West Virginia University researchers have discovered that a cicada fungus called Massopora contains chemicals similar to those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Causes - Limbs - Behavior - Sets - Males

The fungus causes cicadas to lose their limbs and eccentric behavior sets in: Males try to mate with everything they encounter, although the fungus has consumed their genitals and butts.

Despite the horrid physical state of infected cicadas, they continue to roam around freely as if nothing's wrong, dousing other cicadas with a dose of their disease.

Walking - Dead - Flying - Dead

You've heard of "The Walking Dead." This is "The Flying Dead."

"They are only zombies in the sense that the fungus is in control of their bodies," said Matt Kasson, assistant professor of forest pathology and one of the study's authors.

Cicadas - Fungus - Underground - Years - Surface

Cicadas first encounter the fungus underground where they spend 13 to 17 years before emerging to the surface as adults, Kasson said. Within seven to 10 days above ground, the abdomen begins to slough off revealing the fungal infection at the end of the cicada, he continued.

It's quite the coming out party.

Adults - Host - Activity - Sporulation - Dispersal

"Infected adults maintain or accelerate normal host activity during sporulation, enabling rapid and widespread dispersal prior to host death," Kasson said. "They also engage in hypersexual behaviors."

Joining Kasson on this research published in Fungal Ecology are his Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design colleagues Greg Boyce, Kasson's former Ph.D. student in the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences; and Daniel Panaccione, professor of plant and soil sciences.

Impetus - Study - Billions - Cicadas - Northeast

The impetus of the study came in 2016 when billions of cicadas ascended upon the northeast United States. Two of Kasson's...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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