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Hordes of zombie cicadas will emerge across the US this month

Published Jun 5th, 2024 6:19PM EDT
Image: Valeriy Kirsanov/Adobe

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A once-in-a-200-year emergence is happening across the United States this month as two broods of periodical cicadas climb from the ground and take to the air. As these massive swaths of cicadas emerge and start mating, scientists expect hordes of zombie cicadas to appear with them, infecting thousands more along the way.

The two groups of cicadas expected to emerge this month include one that emerges every 13 years and one that appears every 17 years. The two broods are syncing up their emergencies in several areas across the US, and that means you can expect a lot of noise in the coming weeks. You can see exactly where to expect these emergences on the 2024 cicada brood map.

But what exactly do we mean when we say zombie cicadas will be emerging right alongside them? Well, there is still a lot we don’t know about cicadas. But one of the main reasons we believe they hide underground for so long is to help keep predators from knowing exactly when to look for them. But, there’s still one predator that doesn’t have a problem finding them, and it comes in the form of a fungus known as Massospora cicadina.

cicada fungus
A cicada infected with a parasitic fungus. Image source: WVU Photo/Angie Macias

The fungus infects cicadas, biding its time until they emerge, and then it controls the creatures, having them go about their daily lives just like any other cicada would—looking for other cicadas to mate with. The difference, though, is that these cicadas are stuffed full of white fungal spores, which can be passed on to other cicadas.

But these zombie cicadas are smart about how they pass the pathogen around. They don’t just rely on mating with cicadas of the opposite sex. Oh no, male cicadas that are infected with the fungus will also mimic the movements of female cicadas to draw in other males so that it can infect them, Science Focus explains.

We don’t really know how the fungus keeps the cicadas alive. But we do know that it eventually causes them to start falling apart, as they’re essentially zombies. Luckily, they don’t really have much use for humans—unless you’re one of those people who plan to eat cicadas, in which case you should definitely look out for any body parts falling off of cicadas you collect or for white, chalky substances in their bodies.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.