Fungus Controls Behavior of Zombie Cicadas

We’ve read plenty of horror stories from nature about animal parasites infecting other animals and causing them to behave in ways that benefit the parasite. Funguses can do that, too. The parasitic fungus Massospora will infect a male cicada and then cause it to flirt like a female cicada. When a male cicada approaches, the fungus spreads to a new, healthy host.

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“Essentially, the cicadas are luring others into becoming infected because their healthy counterparts are interested in mating,” said Brian Lovett, study co-author and post-doctoral researcher with the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. “The bioactive compounds may manipulate the insect to stay awake and continue to transmit the pathogen for longer.”

These actions persist amid a disturbing display of B-horror movie proportions: Massospora spores gnaw away at a cicada’s genitals, butt and abdomen, replacing them with fungal spores. Then they “wear away like an eraser on a pencil,” Lovett said.

That’s some pretty sophisticated chicanery for a fungus. You might think the fungus couldn’t be too smart, or they would infect a species that didn’t lay dormant for 17 years, but Massospora has adapted to that, too, which you can read about at WVU Today. -via Boing Boing

(Image credit: Angie Macias/WVU)

Source: neatorama

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