A deadly fungus kills horribly flying insects by rotting their entrails, causing their limbs and genitals to fall away while being driven into a hypersexual frenzy.
The fungus infects the young of the insects, crickets, which live underground and lie asleep for up to 16 years until the insects appear above the surface as adults.
The fungus then slowly pushes out of the scaffolding of the insects and kills them slowly – but not before shedding spores and trying to mate with both male and female crickets.
American researchers who studied the bizarre infection have discovered that the fungus contains chemicals that are similar to those of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Studying such fungi could help in discovering new drugs, researchers said.
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In a fate that would calm even George A Romero, cockroaches infected crickets are confronted with a & # 39; flight of the living dead & # 39; as they turn into rotting, hypersexual, infectious zombies
HOW DO CICADAS ENTER IN & # 39; ZOMBIES & # 39 ;?
Young cicadas spend about 13-17 years underground.
The flying adults only live for up to six weeks after their emergence.
The youngsters meet the fungus Massospora cicadina underground, where the infection can sleep for years.
Researchers discovered that visible signs of the infection may appear within ten days of being raised above the ground.
The fungus grows in the soft part of the bug's abdomen and slowly pushes out of their rear to reveal a spore-releasing mass.
The insects rot slowly and their limbs and genitals often fall off – but they keep moving and spread the infection in their wake.
Infected adults often engage in frantic activities and hypersexual behavior – accompanied by both female and male crickets.
This makes the affected insects contagious & # 39; zombie remedies & # 39 ;.
Insect-loving researchers at West Virginia University in Morgantown were asked to study the horrible fungus, known as Massospora cicadina, after a swarm of billions of crickets emerged in 2016 in the northeastern United States.
Although they could not infect cicadas with the fungus in their lab, they could study enough infected insects in the wild to discover that Massospora contains the same types of chemicals as in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Young cicadas spend about 13-17 years, live underground and feed on tree roots before they appear on the surface as flying adults who only live for up to six weeks.
This life cycle is thought to have evolved to protect them from short-lived predators – making the cicada a less reliable food source – but it is in their underground refuge that the young insects can encounter the deadly fungus.
Researchers discovered that visible signs of the infection can occur within ten days after they surface, because the belly of the zombie-like insects starts to rot and is deposited to reveal the mass of fungi erupting from their rear.
& # 39; It is only zombies in the sense that the fungus is in control of their body & # 39 ;, said study author and forest pathologist Matt Kasson.
Although the infection can make the crickets infertile, it causes their legs to fall off and rot them from the inside out, it does not kill the insects immediately and yet makes them walk around and fly around as normal, leaving deadly traces in their wake.
It is this behavior that prompted West Virginia University Ph.D. student Angie Macias to give infected crickets the & # 39; flying salt cellars of death & # 39; to copy.
& # 39; Infected adults maintain or accelerate normal host activity during sporulation, allowing rapid and widespread spread prior to the death of the host & # 39 ;, Professor Kasson explains.
& # 39; They are also concerned with hypersexual behavior & # 39 ;, he added.
In this way, the patient fungus turns the & # 39; zombie & # 39; insects into its own infection spreaders.
The fungus can infect young crickets that live underground and lie asleep for a few years until the insects appear above the surface as adults.
Now that this study has been completed, the researchers are now planning to sequence the genome of Massospora and to compare the different gene expressions in healthy and infected cicadas to learn more about how the infection works.
To achieve this, the team has recently collected cicadas from this year's rise in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The research can lead to practical applications.
"We expect these discoveries to promote a renewed interest in early divergent fungi and their pharmacologically important secondary metabolites, which could serve as the next limit for new drug discovery," said Professor Kasson.
The fungus then slowly pushes out of the scaffolding of the insects and kills them slowly – but not before shedding tracks and trying to mate with male and female crickets
& # 39; I love them, & # 39; said Professor Kasson about the insects he is studying.
& # 39; They still scare me when they fall off my shirt or walk down my neck & # 39 ;, he added.
& # 39; But I can appreciate something that spends nearly two decades underground for six weeks of bliss, with or without the fungus. & # 39;
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Fungal Ecology.
& # 39; I love them, & # 39; said professor Mark Kasson, professor in West Virginia, about the insects he studies. However, he added: & # 39; They still scare me when they fall off my shirt or walk down my neck. & # 39;
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