Humans are not the only ones sensitive to the psychic chemicals found in miraculous mushrooms. Zombie cicadas – exposed to a parasitic fungus – have crossed West Virginia to infect their friends, and now scientists have a better understanding of how this happens.
Researchers at the University of West Virginia have recently seen the return of these strange creatures infected with a fungus called Massospora. According to a study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the fungus manipulates insects to unconsciously infect another cicada, quickly transmitting the disease and creating a certain army of zombies.
When cicada males are infected with Massospora, researchers have found that its wings mature like females, a known mating call. Such behavior attracts healthy male cicadas by facilitating the spread of a fungus that contains chemicals, including psilocybin, that spreads into hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The way the disease manipulates its host and spreads is just the latest discovery after decades of Massospora research. The findings suggest that the parasite’s functions are in part a sexually transmitted infection.
“Basically, cicadas entice others to become infected because their healthy colleagues are interested in mating,” Brian Lovett, a doctoral student at Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said in a press release. week. “Bioactive compounds can be manipulated by an insect to stay awake and to transmit the pathogen for longer.”
The team investigated an infected cicada that returned to southeastern West Virginia this year. Although periodic cicadas are released only every 13 or 17 years, time is displayed in different locations, making it easier for researchers to investigate their behavior.
The researchers described the grim details of the fungal process as “disturbing the display of the proportions of Horror B’s film.” Spores do not eat cicadas of the genitals, buttocks and abdomen until they eventually fall, replacing them with fungal spores – a cruel process of insects that have just spent more than a decade underground.
Cicadas begin to fade, but instead of dying, they fly around and infect others. Due to the mind control abilities of the infection, the insects seem to have nothing wrong.
Lovett described the process as portable on a pencil like an eraser. Mushrooms are like rabies – both “attracting live insects to pay their price,” the researchers said, in a process called active host transfer, which is a form of “biological puppet.”
“Because we are also animals like insects, we want to think we can have complete control over our decisions and we take free will for granted,” Lovett said. “But when these pathogens infect a cicada, it’s very clear that the pathogen pulls the behavioral levers of the cicada to do what does not interest the cascade, but is very beneficial to the pathogen.”
Lovett and his co-author Matthew Kasson, a professor of plant pathology and mycology, first discovered psychoactive compounds in cicodes infected with Massospora last year. However, so far it has not been clear how the infection is transmitted.
Researchers are not sure when to encounter mushrooms in their life cycle. It is possible that cicadic nymphs may have encountered Massospora before rising from the ground after 17 years in order to empathize with adults or on their way to the ground before starting to feed on roots for 17 years.
“The fungus could more or less wait for its host for the next 17 years before someone wakes it up, perhaps with a hormone stick where it might be inactive and asymptomatic for its cicada host,” Kasson said.
But don’t worry about being infected by zombies. Unlikeor , these zombie cicadas are usually harmless to humans, the researchers said.
“They are very obedient,” Lovett said. “You can walk up to one, pick it up to see if it has a fungus (a white or yellowish plug at the back of it) and set it back. They’re by no means a major pest. They’re just a very fun, weird-looking insect with a weird lifestyle. “.
Due to the relatively slow rate of reproduction, the fungus does not pose a significant threat to the cicada population. However, scientists still hope to find out how the pathogen evolved and how it can evolve further by terrorizing other insect species.