Researchers at the University of West Virginia have discovered a fungus that affects cicadas called Massopora and that contains chemicals similar to those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The fungus causes them to lose their limbs and gives them eccentric behavior: males try to mate with everything they find, even if the fungus has already consumed their genitals and lower parts. Despite the horrible physical condition of infected cicadas, they continue to roam freely as if nothing was wrong, infecting other cicadas with their disease.
Yes, it sounds better than many horror movies.
“They are zombies in the sense that the fungus has control of their bodies,” said Matt Kasson, an assistant professor of forest pathology and one of the study’s authors. “Infected adults maintain or accelerate normal host activity during reproduction of the fungus, which allows a rapid and widespread dispersion before the death of the host.”
In 2016, billions of cicadas rose in the northeastern United States and thanks to two Kasson students who loved cicadas, this study could be carried out. Matt Berger, convinced the professor of the importance of studying the fungus and Angie Macias, coined a name for infected cicadas: “flying salt shakers.”
Initially, the research team tried to infect the cicadas in a laboratory, but that method did not work. Even so, they managed to examine enough infected cicadas from nature to make this discovery.
There are those who will wonder if these zombie cicadas can be a new type of drug, to which Kasson replied as follows: “maybe, if you don’t mind taking a big risk. These psychoactive compounds were just two of at least 1,000 compounds that we found in cicadas and any of them could be harmful to humans.”
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