Sexually Transmitted Fungus Takes Over Cicadas, Causes Their Butts To Blow Up

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Cicadas are affected by a fungus that takes over their bodies and behavior and ends their lives. The fungus also leads to the cicadas having their butts explode.  ( Boris Horvat | AFP/Getty Images )

Scientists have known about a fungus that infects cicadas for almost 100 years. Researchers found some new information about the terrifying behavior that this fungus causes in the cicada. This new information shows just how powerless the cicadas become once they contract this parasite.

They're completely taken over.

A Not So Fungi

The study by researchers at the University of Connecticut, which was published in Nature Scientific Reports, show that around 2 to 5 percent of cicadas are infected by the fungus Massospora cicadina. This fungus infects both male and female cicadas but causes a larger change in the behavior of the male cicadas. Scientists studied the infection and created a classification system of the infections caused by Massospora cicadina.

A Stage I infection causes the male cicadas behavior to change in peculiar way. During mating, the male will behave in all of its usual ways, and they will also start flicking their wings. This wing flicking is only done by female cicadas during mating.

Wing flicking tricks other male cicadas to try to mate with infected males. When they get close enough, they are also exposed to the spores that caused the infection. While they still flick their wings, these infected males also mate with healthy female cicadas, further spreading the fungus.

This fungus also causes the cicada's abdomen to become bloated, it is filled with the spores of Massospora cicadina. Their abdomens eventually explode or fall off, which strips them of their genitalia. The cicadas still try to mate with other cicadas despite being unable to.

A Stage II infection occurs when the cicadas are infected by those cicadas with Stage I infections.

Parasitic Relationships

This isn't the first time in the animal world where a parasite will completely hijack the behavior of another animal. T. gondii affects warm-blooded animals. Scientists were able to find how it makes its way through the blood-brain barrier.

Mice that are infected with T. gondii will lose all fear of cats. This may lead to the mouse being eaten. It has been shown that mice under the influence will charge straight up to cats.

T. gondii will also cause a chimpanzee's brain to be attracted to the urine of leopards, who are their only natural predators.

There is also Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that was first discovered in the 19th century. It invades carpenter ants and takes control. Ants under the influence of this parasite will cease all normal behaviors and instead climb vegetation then bite down onto the undersides of leaves and twigs.

From there, a stalk grows out of the ant's body and through the head. Hanging above the ants, it is able to send more spores to infect more ants and begin the process once again.

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