Experts Warn Fungus Will Turn Cicadas Into Sexually Aggressive “Zombies”

The horror movie-like fungus also causes cicadas' genitalia to fall off.

Lauren Wellbank - Author

Apr. 12 2024, Published 3:00 p.m. ET

Cicada insect stains perched on a branch
Source: iStock

No, zombie cicadas aren't creepy crawly villains coming to a movie theatre near you. Instead, they're a bit more sinister than their cinematic counterparts would be, considering they're not some silver screen bad guy, but instead, a force that is going to take the country by storm beginning in late April 2024.

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Experts say that Brood XIX and Brood XIII cicadas emerging from their respective 13- and 17-year cycles are likely to be infected with a fungal pathogen that causes all sorts of horrific side effects, including a single-minded drive to mate with every cicada they come across, whether they're males or females. This, as well as some of the other stomach-churning effects of the fungus, has scientists on alert.

Check out what else the experts say you can expect from this fungal infection.

A cicada amongst several cicada shells
Source: Getty Images
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Zombie cicadas with an STI fungus will be emerging all over the country.

Massospora cicadina is to blame for this fungal pathogen, according to one associate professor of mycology from West Virginia University. Professor Matthew Kasson, who also teaches forest pathology, told CBS News that the fungus will cause hypersexual behavior in the insects.

Kasson went on to describe the process, explaining how the fungus will cause a white plug to erupt from within their body, causing their genitals to pop off as it slowly takes control of their brains.

Much like a sexually transmitted infection (STI), the chalk-like fungus can be passed from cicada to cicada during mating. Because of their missing genitals, no reproduction will occur, but the fungus will continue to spread across the U.S.

People in the Southeast and Midwest will be particularly likely to experience this phenomenon, but that doesn't mean it won't be found in the country's far reaches.

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BroodX Cicada in front of greenery
Source: Getty Images

Should we worry about zombie cicadas or Massospora cicadina?

The short answer is nobody knows yet. Unfortunately, Kasson told CBS News that a lot about this fungus is still unknown because so much happens out of sight and underground, where the Massospora cicadina is growing.

Additionally, there's no way to know where the fungus will go next. The spores will eventually inhabit the soil wherever their bodies have fallen, giving the experts more questions than answers as this pathogen spreads.

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At the time of his interview, in early April 2024, the professor explained that it was still too early to know how the fungus would interact with other animals that eat the cicadas — like snakes and birds. This also includes what effects the fungus could have on larger predators that later feed on them. The good news is that it's not time to panic yet.

While I have to admit that it's hard not to feel bad for the cicadas who are about to have arguably the rudest awakening ever after spending more than a decade underground, I can take some comfort in knowing that, at least for now, the experts don't believe there is going to be any risk to humans who come into contact with Massospora cicadina. Let's just hope it stays that way!

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