A parasite that turns the host into a zombie obsessed with the desire for sex

The parasite, which turns the host into a zombie obsessed with the desire for sex, stuffs it with hallucinogens and “amphetamine”, while the host itself (the host of the parasite) decomposes alive without noticing it.

How do you like that, does it really look like the plot of a fantastic horror movie? But this is not an invention of the writers, but reality. It’s just that the victims of the parasite are not people, but insects – cicadas from North America.

Image of male cicada Magicicada tredecassini

Taken from Wikimedia
Taken from Wikimedia

Magicicada , a genus of insects of 13 and 17 year old periodic cicadas. Someone will be amazed by the age, do insects really live that long? Yes, these cicadas are perhaps the longest-lived insect species. Only ant queens (far from all) can boast of such longevity. Here are just the adult state of cicadas lasts only from 4 to 6 weeks, that is, 13 or 17 years underground, the larva slowly grows, sucking the juices from the roots of trees, and then climbs up, and it begins an adult winged life filled with songs (chirping, however, only males, calling on females), by searching for partners, actually having sex with short breaks for grub.

To live 17 years underground, and then crawl out into the bright light, gain wings, even for such a short period, sing songs, eat plenty, fly, have sex and leave numerous offspring, as for me, a wonderful end to life, a good pay for years in a damp dungeon.

The short life of adult cicadas is reflected in art, so in Japan the cicada is a symbol of fragility and fragility of life, and the famous fable “The Ant and the Dragonfly” in the original is called “The Cicada and the Ant”. In fact, such a short life of adult insects, in turn, is protection from predators that cannot hunt cicadas, since their appearance guarantees food for only a few weeks. But from another, perhaps more terrible enemy, this survival strategy does not save.

Parasitic fungus Massospora cicadina specializes in cicadas of the genus Magicicada. The spores of the parasite “sleep” for years in the ground, in no way betraying themselves. Magic begins with the transition of the larva into adulthood.

Newly adult Magicicada after the final molt

Taken from Wikimedia
Taken from Wikimedia

As soon as the larva of the cicada begins its journey to the surface of the earth, becoming infected with the spores of the fungus, the spores “wake up” and begin to actively germinate into the belly of the cicada. It looks unpleasant from the outside, in fact, it is rotting and decay of animal tissues and their replacement by the body of a parasitic fungus. In the last stages, the tip of the abdomen falls off, turning the insect into a “flying salt shaker of death”: mature spores of the fungus simply pour out of the cicada.

Still living cicada with a “salt shaker” on its belly

Dead cicada, the abdomen is clearly visible filled with a whitish mass – spores

Taken from Wikimedia
Taken from Wikimedia

And what do the infected cicadas themselves feel, which sometimes do not already have half of their bodies?

Euphoria and increased sexual desire. The fungus, devouring the insect, injects into the hemolymph (analogue of blood) of the insect by-products – psilocybin (hallucinogen) and cathinone – an alkoloid, similar in its psychotropic properties to amphetamine.

Cicada under the influence of “drugs” does not waste time on food (actually there is nothing to digest food with) and is only busy looking for sexual partners. At the same time, she is very active – chirping (regardless of gender, in contrast to healthy cicadas), calling for a couple, flies and actively tries to mate. She absolutely does not care that her genitals have been missing for a long time. I must say that their partners (due to lack of intelligence) are also not worried about this, but the infection continues actively until the death of the insect. However, even after death, dying on a tree branch, the cicada’s corpse remains a source of deadly spores.

What does a parasitic fungus do Massospora cicadina ? He “gives” his master the joys of life, much brighter under the “drug trip”, but the payment for this “pleasure” is disproportionate – the quick death of the owner, the inability to leave offspring, infection and death of other cicadas.

Alas, “zombie cicadas” have no choice, for them it was made by a parasitic mushroom.

Proof: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1754504819300352

Author: Bald Kamrad (@LKamrad)

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