Humans are not the only ones susceptible to psychedelic chemicals found in magic mushrooms. “Zombie scars,” under the influence of a parasitic fungus, have reunited in West Virginia to infect their friends, and now scientists know better how it goes.
Researchers at West Virginia University recently saw the return of these strange creatures, which are infected with a fungus called Massospora. According to a study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, the fungus manipulates insects to unconsciously infect other scars, rapidly transmitting the disease to create a type of zombie army.
When a male scar is infected with Massospora, researchers found that it flaps its wings like a female, a well-known mating call. This behavior attracts healthy male scars, facilitating the spread of the fungus, which contains chemicals, including psilocybin, which is found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The way the disease manipulates its host and spreads it is only the most recent discovery after decades of research on Massospora. The results show, in part, the functions of the parasite, as a sexually transmitted infection.
“Essentially, scars attract other people to become infected because their healthy counterparts are interested in mating,” said co-author Brian Lovett, a postdoctoral researcher at Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. in a statement. week. “Bioactive compounds can manipulate the insect to stay awake and continue to transmit the pathogen for longer.”
The team investigated infected scars that returned to southeastern West Virginia earlier this year. While periodic scars only come out every 13 or 17 years, the calendar heats up in different places, making it easier for researchers to study their behaviors.
The researchers described the details of the fungus process as a “disturbing display of proportions of horror B movies.” The spores are consumed in the genitals, and the abdominals of the scars are nourished until they finally fall off, replacing them with fungal spores, a brutal process for insects, which only spent more than a decade underground.
The scars begin to decay, but instead of dying immediately, they fly around and infect others. Because of their infection control skills, insects seem to behave as if nothing went wrong.
Lovett described the process as “wearing like an eraser on a pencil.” The fungi are similar to rabies, both “enlisting live insects to make their bids,” the researchers said – in a process called active host transmission, which is a form of “biological puppets.”
“Because we are also animals like insects, we like to think we have complete control over our decisions and take our free will for granted,” Lovett said. “But when these pathogens infect the scars, it’s very clear that the pathogen is pulling the lever’s behavioral levers to cause it to do things that don’t interest the scar, but it’s very much in the pathogen’s interest.”
Lovett and co-author Matthew Kasson, an associate professor of plant pathology and mycology, first discovered psychoactive compounds in scars infected with Massospora last year. But until now, it was still unclear how the infection occurs.
Researchers are unsure when they encounter fungi in their life cycle. It is possible that scar nymphs could meet Massospora before leaving the ground after 17 years to become adults or go to the ground, before feeding on roots for 17 years.
“The fungus could wait more or less inside your host for the next 17 years until something wakes you up, perhaps a hormonal thesis, where it possibly remains latent and asymptomatic in your gypsy host,” he said. Kasson.
But you don’t have to worry about being infected by zombies. Unlikeo , researchers say, these zombie scars are harmless to humans.
“They’re very docile,” Lovett said. “You can walk up to one, pick it up to see if it has the fungus (a white to yellowish cap on the back) and put it back down. Either way, they’re not a major pest. Just a really interesting quirky insect that has developed a strange lifestyle. ”
Due to its relatively slow reproduction rate, the fungus does not pose a significant threat to the general cigarette population. But scientists are still waiting to find out how the pathogen developed and how it may be evolving to further terrorize other insect species.