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Cicadas are infected with fungi that make them zombies

Cicadas succumb to a parasitic infection that basically turns them into zombies. You read that correctly. The fungus, scientifically known as Massospora, has been infecting male cicadas for years, according to a magazine from PLOS Pathogens reported by LiveScience. But it doesn’t end there. Similar to a zombie army, the male cicada zombies work to increase their numbers by attracting other male cicadas with a flickering wing motion traditionally used by female cicadas to attract male partners.

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If the uninfected male cicadas attempt to mate with the infected cicada after being attracted, the massospora is transmitted and begins to infect the new cicada by eating on its belly. It replaces the belly with itself, which looks like a group of yellow spores.

It’s apparently not easy to spot this zombie-like transformation, as the normally infected cicadas belong to the Magicicada genus, which spend up to 17 years of their lives underground at the same time. Fortunately for the scientists behind the PLOS Pathogens report, they can track different cicada populations that appear at different times over a cycle of years.

As soon as the belly has turned into a mass of spores, the now zombified cicada flies around and drops spores to infect even more cicadas. How the Massospora controls this spore shedding and the mating call that occurs after infection is not yet clear to the scientists which chemicals in the fungus do this.The life of an uninfected cicada after emerging from the ground years and years after its birth would generally only take a few weeks. They mate, lay eggs and then die. If they get infected by the Massospora, their life will extend, but considering that they are zombies at the time, they don’t really live.

If you crave zombie-like science, read how scientists are reviving underwater life forms 100 million years old. Then read about how scientists created a bionic moon jellyfish earlier this year.

Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer and travel guide for IGN. You can Follow him on Twitter @LeBlancWes.

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