Cicada Doom

There is a fungus, Massospora cicadina, that attacks periodical cicadas[often called 17-year or 13-year locusts]. First, diploid resting spores infect cicadas just before they emerge, turning most of the abdomen into haploid spores while leaving the head and thorax intact. The cicadas remain active, but become ‘unnaturally sexually receptive’. Infected males even wing-flick at other males. causing frequent male-male attempts at copulation. Infected females cannot complete normal mating and keep wing-flicking at normal males until they die. Sexual contact, or more exactly pseudo-sexual contact [half the abdomen has fallen off], seems to be important in spreading the haploid spores.

In the second stage, the infected cicadas produce a mass of diploid resting spores, that fall to the ground and wait 17 years for the next set of victims.

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19 Responses to Cicada Doom

  1. Laethan Leliar says:


  2. misdreavus says:

    Well, whatever fungus I have, at least this one didn’t make my willy fall off at age 17.

  3. Greying Wanderer says:

    nature is nasty

  4. JayMan says:

    Interesting. Now I though that the whole point of a prime number of years in hibernation was to avoid just this sort of thing…

    • Polymath says:

      The prime number cycle avoids letting any predator animal with a shorter cycle gain an advantage by synchronizing, but it doesn’t work against fungi which makes spores that can lie dormant for many years. The 17 year adaptation doesn’t have to work against every threat, as long as it gives some benefit it can evolve.

  5. erica says:

    I’d love to hear these guys.

    BTW, speaking of fungi: we usually think of fungal infections as fairly harmless and treatable, although Valley Fever is pretty deadly when it’s not diagnosed in time (I’ve known two people to die of it, unfortunately). Just as we’ve discovered that viral and bacterial infections have long-term consequences do you think the same might be true of fungal infections?

  6. Timtoc says:

    There is a traditional Chinese medicine made from “caterpillar fungus” that is useful in diabetes. The ghost moth, Thitarodes, larvae are parasitized by Ophiocordyceps and its fruiting body emerges from the caterpillar’s head. Because the fungus is phallic appearing, it has long been used as an aphrodisiac. There may be much to learn from this type of natural experiment. However, getting the fungus to reproduce in the lab is tricky. So, it remains an expensive remedy and a potential opportunity

  7. JH says:

    What’s the relevance? This is an STD (sort of), but you said you don’t think homosexuality is caused by an STD.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was wondering the same thing as JH

    • gcochran9 says:

      Relevance to what? There’s a big emergence of 17-year locusts under way in the East, and I’ve always thought that massospora cicadina was interesting, in a creepy sort of way.

      If you think that the comment wasn’t directly relevant to the cosmic purpose that Destiny has chosen me for, relax. That’s going fine.

      • JH says:

        You do a lot of posts teasing about some work you’re thinking about, or argument you’ve engaged with, through seemingly disparate but actually related topics. It trains your readers not to expect that a cicada is just a cicada.

  8. Global Thought Crime says:

    Sometimes a phallic symbol is just a phallic symbol.

  9. diana says:

    Yes, a brood is coming this year. Call me strange but I’ve always liked the sound of cicadas. It’s the sound of summer.

    Cool graphic of a cicada molting:

    It’s awfully cold hereabouts. I wonder if this will affect their appearance.

  10. teageegeepea says:

    Mycologist Paul Stamets talks about entomopathogenic (insect-killing) fungi around the second half of this TED talk.

  11. Pingback: Why Psychology 101 Should Be Evolutionary Psychology | Pop Psychology

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