Psychoactive parasitic fungus turning cicadas into hyper sexual ‘zombies’

Researchers have found a new population of cicadas infected with a parasitic psychoactive fungus turning them into “zombie” cicadas obsessed with mating.

The cicadas, identified in 3 states throughout the US, are infected with a fungus known as Massospora, which scientists say “manipulates male cicadas into flicking their wings like females” which is “a mating invitation”.

The “trickery” tempts males to mate with other male cicadas, which scientists from West Virginia College believes allows to distribute the fungus.

The fungus’ spores “gnaw absent at a cicada’s genitalia, butt and stomach, replacing them with fungal spores”, Brian Lovett, the research co-creator and write-up-doctoral researcher with the Davis College or university of Agriculture, All-natural Methods and Design said. The spores on the cicada then “wear absent like an eraser on a pencil”.

He stated the way the virus transmits is equivalent to rabies, which modifies the behaviour of the host.

The results, titled “Behavioural betrayal: How choose fungal parasites enlist dwelling insects to do their bidding,” were a short while ago posted in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

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“Essentially, the cicadas are luring others into getting to be contaminated mainly because their nutritious counterparts are interested in mating,” Lovett explained.

“The bioactive compounds may perhaps manipulate the insect to stay awake and continue to transmit the pathogen for longer.”

He reported both equally rabies and entomopathogenic fungi (parasites that wipe out insects) the pathogens use their residing hosts “active host transmission,”.

“When you‘re infected with rabies, you turn into aggressive, you turn into fearful of drinking water and you do not swallow,” Lovett explained. “The virus is passed through saliva and all of those people signs or symptoms essentially flip you into a rabies-spreading equipment exactly where you‘re far more most likely to chunk individuals.

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“In that perception, we‘re all very common with lively host transmission. Considering that we are also animals like bugs, we like to assume we have total regulate over our selections and we just take our no cost-will for granted.

“But when these pathogens infect cicadas, it‘s extremely crystal clear that the pathogen is pulling the behavioural levers of the cicada to result in it to do points which are not in the fascination of the cicada but is very substantially in the curiosity of the pathogen.”

Matthew Kasson, the paper’s co writer and an affiliate professor of plant pathology and mycology found out the Massospora-contaminated cicada had psychoactive compounds final calendar year.

Psychoactive signifies a chemical that affects an animal’s mental point out or brain function.

“They are only zombies in the sense that the fungus is in handle of their bodies,” Prof Kasson stated.

Prof Kasson claimed it had beforehand been acknowledged the cicada nymphs have been currently being uncovered to Massospora in their 17th year when they emerged from the ground as grownups. But the exploration team now believe that they may possibly be exposed to it as youthful cicadas when they initial enter the ground.

“The fungus could far more or less lay in wait around inside of its host for the upcoming 17 a long time until finally anything awakens it, probably a hormone cue, where it perhaps lays dormant and asymptomatic in its cicada host,” Prof Kasson said.

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