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Thousands of cicadas are hosting a fungus that transforms their behavior.


NSFW    MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA — Thousands of Brood X periodic cicadas could be playing host to a fungus that turns them into spore-shedding "fungal gardens" and transforms their behavior, according to The Washington Post.

The cicadas will emerge in the U.S. this month having begun their lives as eggs laid by adults high in trees, before hatching, falling and burrowing into the ground below for up to 17 years, according to a 1995 Annual Review of Entomology study, cited by Live Science.

However some of the cicadas will have been infected by a fungus known as Massospora cicadina found in the soil beneath the trees, according to a study by researchers from West Virginia University published in the PLOS Pathogens journal in 2020.

When these infected cicadas emerge from the ground, the fungus is still contained within their bodies. But gradually the back halves of their bodies are eaten away by the fungus, leaving an abdomen-shaped clump of fungus exposed.

As the fungus spores are released from the infected cicadas, they infect others. But infected males were also found to flick their wings in the same manner as females, to encourage other males to mate with them and thus transmit the fungus sexually.

Even after their abdomens have ruptured, cicadas attempt to function normally, wandering over trees, flying and attempting to mate.
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