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'Flying Salt Shakers Of Death:' WVU Researchers Studying Fungal-Infected Zombie Cicadas

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Like something out of a horror movie, West Virginia University researchers say a fungus is infecting cicadas that causes them to lose their minds.

WVU researchers say the fungus is called Massopora and contains chemicals similar to those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

The fungus causes cicadas to lose their abdomens and resort to eccentric behavior.

"Males try to mate with everything they encounter, although the fungus has consumed their genitals and rear ends," researchers told WVU Today.

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Researchers say that even though the cicadas lose body parts, they continue to roam around as if nothing is wrong, spreading the disease to other cicadas until they die shortly after.

"They are only zombies in the sense that the fungus is in control of their bodies," said Matt Kasson, an assistant professor of forest pathology, one of the study's researchers.

Kasson says the cicadas first encounter the fungus underground before emerging to the surface as adults.

It's within seven to 10 days above ground that the cicada's abdomen begins falling off, revealing the fungal infection.

Researchers started studying the fungus in 2016 when billions of cicadas emerged from the ground across the northeast United States.

It's reported that it was during that study that Angie Macias, one of the researchers coined the phrase "flying salt shakers of death" about the infected cicadas.

WVU says Kasson and his team of researchers are now collecting cicadas from this year's emergence across Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The research team has tried infecting the cicadas in a lab setting, but that method has proven unsuccessful so far.

Click here to read more about the shocking study.

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