HomeLatest NewsIt's Real: Zombie Cicadas Invade the Midwest

It’s Real: Zombie Cicadas Invade the Midwest

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When I first worked in Japan I was in Kansai, located in the southernmost part of Honshu. The Japanese cicadas were everywhere in the muggy, warm evenings of the region. They are not like our cicadas, and they appear every summer. The Japanese cicada’s call still brings back memories of Japan, its rice fields, orchards, and mountains.

This year’s hatching season is dominated by the American variety. The American cicadas, however, have to contend with a fungus that would make George A. Romero applaud in admiration. It turns them into sexualized zombie cicadas.

In southern Illinois, a sexually transmitted illness that turns cicadas “zombies” or causes their genitals fall off was detected. It is spreading to the Midwest.

Massospora Cicadadina is a fungal infection that only affects 13- and-17-year-old periodical cicadas. The “cicadageddon” of this year is brought by two broods, Brood XIII which is primarily found in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin and Brood XIX which extends to the south and east.

How the fungus functions:

The white fungus infects male cicadas, causing the gonads of the male to tear from the body. The spores are chalky and spread by the fungus to infect more cicadas.

The fungus takes over how the cicadas act. They are still driven to mate as many cicadas together as possible even though a fungus has replaced their reproductive organs, explained Dr. Matt Kasson of West Virginia University’s associate professor of forest pathology and mycology.

The male infected also flutters their wings in a way that is attractive, which attracts more victims.

That’s downright disturbing.

This is how it’s likely to unfold over the next, um, century. Some cicadas will always be resistant to this fungus. The fungus cannot infect them or their immune system will destroy it or render harmless the infected cicada. These cicadas will not die, but they will still mate and lay eggs. Their infected counterparts, on the other hand, will be unable to reproduce. In a few cycles, the majority of susceptible cicadas die and are infected, while the more resistant ones reproduce, providing a natural immune system.

Imagine this. Exposure to pathogens can develop herd immunity. Who knew?

The fungus will spread and infect adjacent cicada colonies, where it will repeat the process, resulting in more sexualized zombie cicadas. Nature is strange. What could be more disturbing than zombie cicadas, if you ask me?

This too shall pass. The summer will come to an end and all the cicadas will be gone, zombie or not.

We who live in these areas affected by the floods should take everything in stride. We shouldn’t be bothered by it.

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