‘Zombie Cicada’ discovered in Louisville cemetery

Published: Jun. 15, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 11:10 PM EDT
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The rear-end of the infected insect will fall off.
The rear-end of the infected insect will fall off.(WAVE 3 News)
Those at Idlewild found the 'Zombie Cicada' in a Louisville cemetery.
Those at Idlewild found the 'Zombie Cicada' in a Louisville cemetery.(WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The creepy creatures were buried underground. Then, hordes of them climbed from the earth every 17 years.

The life story of the Brood X cicadas already sounds a lot like the lore of the living dead, but now, in Louisville, there’s one more reason a closer comparison of them can be made to zombies.

“The pathogen does produce some unusual compounds that mess with the cicada’s mind and its behavior,” Rachel Barger, who works at Idlewild Butterfly Farm, said. “So, that they could be described as ‘Zombie Cicadas.’”

That happens when the red-eyed bugs are infected by a specific fungal pathogen.

It’s a natural phenomena that’s garnered supernatural names including “Zombie Cicadas” and “Flying Salt Shakers of Death.”

“The abdomen falls off to expose the white plug of spores,” Barger said. “So, some people call them ‘Flying Salt Shakers of Death’ because they’re flying around spreading fungal pathogens all over the place. They are also sometimes called ‘Zombie Cicadas’ because the pathogen does produce some unusual compounds that mess with the cicadas’ mind.”

The infliction of “Zombie Cicadas” is not an insatiable hunger for brains, but, instead, the bugs’ behavior changes to better spread the fungus.

“What it does is that is causes this male cicada to behave reproductively as a male and a female,” Barger said. “So, it is singing like a male cicada does. That very loud droning call. But its also flicking its wings in response to the calls of other male cicadas. So, it’s attracting both types of mates that can come into contact with it to get infected.”

Those at Idlewild found the infected cicada while searching for specimen recently at Cave Hill Cemetery.

While bug experts call them super spreaders, they said the fungal infection can’t be transferred to humans and won’t impact the overall cicada population.

They urge people not to eat “Zombie Cicadas,’ and to keep their pets from doing that as well.

“It never really causes any big population effects,” Barger said. “So, we’re not going to see less cicadas this year. This is just something that occurs natural to a small percentage of cicadas every 17 years that they come out.”

Barger said WAVE Country is currently experiencing the peak of the cicada emergence. The brood likely will be gone by early- to mid-July.

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WAVE 3 News Now. Watch Anytime. Anywhere.(Source: WAVE 3 News)

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