I do not like cicadas

I didn’t see much of them while I was growing up near Seattle, but then I spent a year in Indiana, where the cicadas are deafening in the summer. I learned to detest their shrill noisiness then. Now I live in Minnesota where we get the annual cicadas, but they aren’t so numerous as to generate the cacophony people have to live with elsewhere.

It’s going to be bad this summer, because two broods of the 13- and 17-year periodic cicadas are going to be crawling out simultaneously and singing continuously. There’s nothing you can do about it.

See how Minnesota is free of the Magicicada plague? I’ll be staying away from Iowa & Illinois & Indiana, that’s for sure.

Although…I do not dislike the cicadas so much that I would wish a fungal infection on them, especially not a fungus as creepy as this one.

Once the cicadas emerge from the ground, they molt into adults, and within a week to 10 days, the fungus causes the backside of their abdomens open up. A chalky, white plug erupts out, taking over their bodies and making their genitals fall off.

“The cicada continues to participate in normal activities, like it would if it was healthy,” Kasson told CBS News. “Like it tries to mate, it flies around, it walks on plants. Yet, a third of its body has been replaced by fungus. That’s really kind of bizarre.”

Kasson said the reason the cicadas might be able to ignore the fungus is that it produces an amphetamine, which could give them stamina.

“But there’s also something else unusual about it,” he said. “There’s this hyper-sexualized behavior. So, males for example, they’ll continue to try and mate with females — unsuccessfully, because again, their back end is a fungus. But they’ll also pretend to be females to get males to come to them. And that doubles the number of cicadas that an infected individual comes in contact with.”

What’s really evil about that fungus is that despite all the body horror, it doesn’t shut the cicadas up. In another bizarre twist, it also affects animals around them.

The fungus is also the type that has hallucinatory effects on birds that would eat them, Cooley said.

There’s more! Cicadas have another repulsive habit.

Bhamla in March published a study of the urination flow rates of animals across the world. Cicadas were clearly king, peeing two to three times stronger and faster than elephants and humans. He couldn’t look at the periodical cicadas that mostly feed and pee underground, but he used video to record and measure the flow rate of their Amazon cousins, which topped out around 10 feet per second (3 meters per second).

They have a muscle that pushes the waste through a tiny hole like a jet, Bhamla said. He said he learned this when in the Amazon he happened on a tree the locals called a “weeping tree” because liquid was flowing down, like the plant was crying. It was cicada pee.

“You walk around in a forest where they’re actively chorusing on a hot sunny day. It feels like it’s raining,” said University of Connecticut entomologist John Cooley. That’s their honeydew or waste product coming out the back end … It’s called cicada rain.”

I hope the residents of states south and east of me are looking forward to a summer of getting pissed on by shrieking zombie insects while the birds are tripping balls and spacing out.


  1. Hemidactylus says

    I happened to be in Maryland around 1987 when cicadas were in full bloom. I thought driving into a swarm of love bugs was bad. These things splatting on a windshield is not fun.

  2. fusilier says

    I spent a year in Indiana, where the cicadas are deafening in the summer.

    Not any more. Too many trees have been cut down, in the name of “progress.”

    Let’s Just Say (tm from an old mailing list) that the gubernatorial candidates, here, are running attack adds on each other, saying that X isn’t enough of a fascist.


    James 2:24

  3. says

    I’m just glad I don’t ride a motorcycle anymore. I thought Junebugs were bad, but these fucker HURT when they hit you.

  4. Walter Solomon says

    In my experience, the 17-year ones that come out in the Spring aren’t so bad. The annual “dog day” cicadas you hear in late summer are quite annoying OTOH.

  5. consciousness razor says

    I remember last time here in Missouri all too well, but now the tinnitus is an everyday thing for me too…. Not looking forward to those creepy little buggers at all.

  6. raven says

    The fungus is also the type that has hallucinatory effects on birds that would eat them, Cooley said.

    I had to look it up.

    The fungus that parasitizes cicadas is a talented chemist.

    It produces psilocybin, a common psychedelic drug.
    It also produces cathinone, a stimulant, which is one of the drugs found in the middle eastern plant, khat.
    Khat is very popular and widely used in some countries like Yemen, which are where it is grown.

    A psychedelic keeps this cicada flying even after a fungus has destroyed its abdomen
    Behavior helps parasite spread
    30 JUL 2018 BYELIZABETH GAMILLO Science.org

    It seems like a scene out of a horror movie, or at least one made by insects. A fungus called Massospora cicadina attacks a cicada, destroys much of its abdomen, and releases the mind-altering drug psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic in mushrooms, and cathinone, an amphetamine.

    This allows the infected insect (pictured) to continue to fly around as if a third of its body isn’t missing, researchers report this month on the bioRxiv preprint server. Infected cicadas are hyperactive, spend less time eating, and the males are hypersexual—all of which may help the fungus spread to other victims, The Atlantic reports.

  7. StevoR says

    @ ^ raven : Yikes – & I thiought cordyceps was bad enough cordyceps* was bad enough!.

    Cicadas are the sound of Summer here. Noisy but kinda nice. Louder than that other sound of leather onwillow and cricket commentary. Better than the weather usually. I don’t mind them. They play their part in the ecology and all and oh, yeah, my hearings pretty stuffed anyhow..

    .* Hyperlink to 3 mins long doco segemnt ‘Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi – Planet Earth Attenborough BBC wildlife’

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    How many people will hear about this and run around eating/smoking/doing dubious chemistry on cicadas this year?

    Will they actually get a buzz (the non-auditory kind, that is) out of it?

  9. says

    ” a summer of getting pissed on by shrieking zombie insects while the birds are tripping balls and spacing out”

    There are people who would pay for that. It could be the next Burning Man.

  10. Ridana says

    “And so, as you enter the adult phase of your life, you will thank God that these past 17 years of being stuck in the ground and unable to move are over. … Congratulations, Cicadas of ’94”

    Cicada Graduation – The Far Side

  11. vereverum says

    The large black & yellow wasps with reddish wings that come with the cicadas are a lot quieter and actually quite nice.

  12. says

    This, of all your crotchety complaints, may be the one that finally gets me to stop reading the blog after all these years. Imagine hating cicadas!

  13. Tethys says

    I had never heard of the fungus, which sounds pretty horrible. The Cicada Killer wasp is large as far as wasps go; but the cicadas it paralyzes and places in its burrows as baby food are much larger.

  14. nihilloligasan says

    NGL (not gonna lie) i wouldn’t mind being a cicada and getting infected with this, I think the idea of spending all day gooning and spreading my HIV fungus to all my friends and family sounds like paradise

  15. pilgham says

    Think of it as karma for all the spider photos. But seriously, if you have never witnessed a cicada brood emerging, go visit Chicago when it’s happening (other locations are available). The other-worldliness of the experience is, IMHO, up there with a total eclipse. But it lasts longer so you can get all the photos/recordings/samples you could ever want. Any place with old trees will be carpeted; it is too cool!

  16. weylguy says

    Trumpist Woman: “This solar eclipse thing is so stupid. I don’t know why astronomers are having it in the first place.”

    Trumpist Man: “This cicada cycle thing is so stupid. I don’t know why biologists are having it in the first place.”

  17. DanDare says

    As a child in Oztralia my friends and I would catch and keep cicadas.
    There were the common greens, the black princes, the prized white ghosts.
    We all hated the yellowish ones we aptly named piss whakers.

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