A deadly fungus horrifically kills flying insects by rotting their innards, causing their limbs and genitals to drop off while they are driven into a hypersexual frenzy.
The fungus infects the young of the insects, cicadas, which live underground, lying dormant for up to 16 years until the insects emerge as adults above the surface.
The fungus then slowly pushes out of the insects' rears, killing them slowly — but not before making them shed spores and try to mate with male and female cicadas alike.
US researchers studying the bizarre infection have found that the fungus contains chemicals similar to those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Studying fungi like these could help discover new medical drugs, researchers said.
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In a fate that would chill even George A Romero, fungus-infected cicadas face a 'flight of the living dead' as they turn into rotting, hypersexual, infectious zombies
Young cicada spend around 13–17 years underground.
The flying adults live for only up to six weeks after emerging.
The young encounter the Massospora cicadina fungus underground, where the infection can be dormant for years.
Researchers found that visible signs of the infection can appear within ten days of emerging above ground.
The fungus grows in the soft part of the insect's abdomen, pushing slowly out of their rears to reveal a spore-releasing mass.
The insects slowly rot and their limbs and genitals often drop off — but still they carry on moving, spreading the infection in their wake.
Infected adults often engage in frenzied activities and hypersexual behaviour — mating with female and male cicadas alike.
This turns the afflicted insects into infectious 'zombie' agents.
Insect-loving researchers at the West Virginia University in Morgantown were prompted to study the ghastly fungus, known as Massospora cicadina, after a swarm of billions of the cicadas emerged in the northeastern US back in 2016.
Although they were unable to infect cicadas with the fungus in their lab, they were able to study enough infected insects in the wild to discover that Massospora contains the same kinds of chemicals found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Young cicada spend around 13–17 years living underground feeding on tree roots before emerging at the surface as flying adults that only live for up to six weeks.
This life cycle is thought to have evolved to protect them from shorter-lived predators