Army of “Zombie Cicadas” Forming in West Virginia
Step aside murder hornets, there’s a new nightmare insect in town.
Because the world isn’t zany enough already, CBS News reports that “zombie cicadas" have reemerged in West Virginia.
“Zombie cicadas” are cicadas under the influence of the parasitic fungus called Massospora which contains chemicals like psilocybin, found in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Though harmless to humans, the fungus manipulates the insects into infecting other cicadas with the pathogen that eats away at their mind and body.
According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, male cicadas infected with Massospora flick their wings to imitate the distinct mating call of a female. This attracts healthy male cicadas who then become infected with the deadly fungus and go on to spread it in the same fashion.
Hordes of mutant cicadas, anyone?
Researchers studied infected cicadas that reemerged in southeastern West Virginia earlier this year after 17 years underground. They described what they observed as a "disturbing display of B-horror movie proportions." Massospora spores cause a cicada’s genitals, butt, and abdomen to decay, replacing them with fungal spores. Then they “wear away like an eraser on a pencil,” co-author Brian Lovett, a post-doctoral researcher with the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said in a news release.
"Essentially, the cicadas are luring others into becoming infected because their healthy counterparts are interested in mating," Lovett explained. "The bioactive compounds may manipulate the insect to stay awake and continue to transmit the pathogen for longer."
Horrifying? Yes. But, researchers say that there's no need for humans to worry about becoming infected.
"They're very docile," Lovett said. "You can walk right up to one, pick it up to see if it has the fungus (a white to yellowish plug on its back end) and set it back down. They're not a major pest in any way. They're just a really interesting quirky insect that's developed a bizarre lifestyle."