After 17 years underground, the Brood X  cicadas are slowly emerging in 15 states across the East Coast and Midwest in the United States for one last soiree. The Brood X cicadas spend most of their lives buried underneath the soil, living an uneventful life, until once every 17 years they finally get to break out of their prison for some mating session. Talk about going out with a bang. However, this time around the Brood X is said to encounter the spores of a fungus called Massospora.

The fungus Massospora is said to put a damper on Brood X's mating plans since a week after the cicadas infected by the fungus will lose their butts and genitals. When a Cicada crosses paths with this fungus, they will bury themselves inside the Cicadas, consuming its organs and pushing against their abdomens and slowly causing their back halves to fall off their body. The fungus buried inside the Cicada will convert the rear third of its body into a mass of spores. So now instead of genitals, the cicadas find themselves infected with spores.

Then the cicadas now drugged with cathinone, a behaviour-altering amphetamine in the fungus, take over their brains and encourages them to ignore the fact that half their bodies are missing. The insects unaware of the loss of their genitals experience an increased sex drive and go about their business mating like there's no tomorrow - which in their case is true. However, excessive mating spreads the infection around, as the spores rain down from their exposed backsides, landing on other cicadas and saturating the soil. “We call them flying saltshakers of death,” says Matt Kasson, who studies fungi at West Virginia University.

Scientists have known about Massospora’s effects on cicadas since the mid-19th century, but the emergence of Brood X  has put them back on the map again. The fungus will not contribute to the death of cicadas but it will rev up their sex drive and spread the infection.  Scientist predicts fewer than 10% of the Cicadas population to be infected when they emerge from inside the earth. However, once outside the cicadas infected with the fungus and have their genitals transformed into spores will further infect a large number of Cicadas.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on May 20, 2021 05:28 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website