Fungus forces cicadas to mate to death

Cicadas like these only emerge en masse every 13 to 17 years, but some are infected with a deadly fungal parasite. Courtesy of West Virginia University

A fungus that attacks dormant cicadas puts males into a mating frenzy that helps the parasite jump between hosts, researchers have found. Cicadas encounter the fungus Massopora during the 13 to 17 years they spend underground waiting to emerge as adults. After as little as a week, parts of the cicadas’ abdomens fall off, exposing the fungus at the end of their bodies. The body-controlling fungus causes infected cicadas to exhibit “hypersexual behaviors,” with males trying to mate with anything they find, even though despite the fact that their genitals and other portions of their bodies have been consumed by the fungus. While the eagerness may seem futile for the cicadas, which soon die from the infection, it helps the fungus spread to new hosts, the researchers of a new study published in Fungal Ecology said. Matthew Berger, one of the co-authors of the research, has called the cicadas “flying salt-shakers of death.” The Massapora fungus contains some of the same chemicals present in hallucinogenic mushrooms, the researchers said.

Read more at CBS Pittsburgh, and read the study here.