Researchers have known for years that cicada populations are being affected by parasitic fungi, which are known under the name of Massopora, but a new study has revealed more information about the tactics used by the fungus to reach new targets.
Massopora is able to force the male cicadas to flick their wings in a pattern that is similar to the one used by female cicadas to attract mating partners. Male cicadas will be attracted by the movement and will become infected as they get closer to the host.
A small-scale zombie plague
As the fungal infection spreads, the insects will enter a zombie-like state while the fungus will consume the abdomen, the genital organs, and the buttocks of the insect, replacing them with fungal spores. The zombification is helped the fact that Massopora can secrete powerful chemicals.
Some of the chemicals are hallucinogenics similar to the one founds in some mushrooms, but psilocybin and amphetamine were also observed. These compounds are strong enough to force the insect to remain awake and spread the fungus for a longer time.
Infected in the underground
The insects contact the fungus while being underground and continue to spread it after they emerge. Visible signs of body deterioration will become visible in less than ten days after the insects emerge as the fungus will spread across their body and consume body parts.
Researchers have compared the tactics used by entomopathogenic fungi to those of rabies as bot relies on the hosts for continued transmission. Once an animal is affected by rabies, it will become afraid of water and uses the ability to swallow. The virus resides in saliva, and the infected animal will bite other creatures to spread it.
While previous research explored some of the behaviors associated with entomopathogenic fungi, the new study offers an interesting overall perspective that will be useful for additional research.