Cicada infected with fungus become “zombies” and try to mate with anything

A strange behavior was discovered by a group of researchers from the University of West Virginia concerning a group of cicadas. The latter can be infected by a fungus called Massopora which injects into the body of the insect chemical substances very similar to those of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Once infected, the cicadas lose their limbs and genitals and take on behavior that the researchers themselves define as eccentric: they try to mate “with everything they encounter” wandering like “zombies” and infecting other group cicadas.

“Zombie” is the word used by Matt Kasson, assistant professor of biology at the university and principal author of the study: these cicadas, once infected, seem to lose control of their body, control that passes, in a sense, to the fungus pathogen. The cicadas are infected during the period they pass under the ground, a period that can last several years, before they emerge on the surface and become adult.

Once infected, the cicada’s body begins to fall apart but not to a level that does not allow them to move anymore. Before death, for a certain period they continue to fly, despite the fact that the fungus is “eating” their limbs and their reproductive system and in this way, the same fungus can spread better and spread to the other cicadas.

In the same way, the hypersexual behavior that the cicada assumes once infected and once in flight helps to better spread the fungus thanks to a greater number of physical contacts.

The researchers now intend to acquire the genome of the fungus also to better understand its action and the possible presence of potentially important secondary pharmacological metabolites.