How the Cicada Fungus Causes Bugs to Try to Mate Like Crazy in Order to Spread
As periodical cicadas emerge from the ground throughout the eastern United States, some may be infected with a strange parasitic fungus that hijacks the insects’ brains and manipulates them into trying to mate like mad.
Periodical cicadas are a group of seven species of cicadas that emerge from the ground every 13 to 17 years in North America. “Brood X” refers to the cicadas that will erupt from the ground in 2021.
These cicadas spend the majority of their lives underground as nymphs, but when the 13- or 17-year cycle is up, the insects crawl out of the soil and molt, transforming into adults. Cicadas mate and lay eggs during this stage of their lives.
Just a small percentage of the billions of cicadas that will emerge from the field will be contaminated with Massospora cicadina, a psychoactive fungus that contains the same active ingredient as magic mushrooms—psilocybin.
According to Matt Kasson, an associate professor of forest pathology and mycology at West Virginia University, “the fungus remains dormant in the soil until the cicada comes up.” “It detects the cicada’s own hormonal signal.”
Male periodical cicadas usually attract females by making loud buzzing noises. Females respond by flicking their wings in a specific pattern.
Infected males, on the other hand, become hyperactive and have a major increase in sex desire, prompting them and try to mate with everything they can find, including other males.
In reality, the fungus coerces males into flapping their wings in the manner of females, which other males interpret as an invitation to mate.
According to a report reported in the journal PLOS Pathogens last year, this attracts unsuspecting males to approach infected cicadas, raising the likelihood that the infection would have to jump from one insect to another.
“Essentially, the cicadas are luring others into being infected because their healthy counterparts are involved in mating,” said Brian Lovett, a co-author of the report from West Virginia University, in a press release accompanying the study.
“The bioactive compounds may manipulate the insect to stay awake and continue to transmit the pathogen for longer,” he said.
The fungus has horrific consequences for infected cicadas, devouring the insects’ genitals and. This is a brief summary.