PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As if cicadas aren’t creepy enough, now researchers say there are zombie cicadas among them.

“When you think of a zombie, their appendages are falling off,” said Lorren Kezmoh at the Carnegie Science Center. As far as zombie cicadas go, she says, “Their abdomen does eventually fall off.”

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Kezmoh has seen it up close.

Since the latest brood started emerging, she’s been collecting them all over the Western Pennsylvania region.

Kezmoh says she has close to 500 in her freezer.

She says they are for research and mounting, not consumption.

Among those she’s collected, some have been infected with a fungus, they acquired as they rose out of the ground.

The spores actually lay in wait on the surface and hop on as they crawl by. Scientists have been watching this Massospora cicada fungus in broods for almost a century. It develops white clusters of spores in the abdomen and causes it to break off piece by piece.

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  • Kezmoh says as the spores spread, “It kind of highjacks the cicada’s nervous system. It makes the males act like females, and females want to mate with anyone and anything.”

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    But up until now, no one knew why.

    Now researchers led by Matt Kasson, Ph.D., at West Virginia University, have discovered why the cicadas go nuts.

    Dr. Kasson says they found the answer in the makeup of the fungus. “Cicada infecting fungi were producing psychoactive compounds that were helping alter the behavior of the cicadas.”

    Dr. Kasson was joined in the research published in Fungal Ecology by colleagues Greg Boyce (Kasson’s former Ph.D. student), and Professor Daniel Panaccione.

    The WVU team actually found about a thousand compounds but there were two compounds that stood out.

    Dr. Kasson says they found, “Psilocybin, that’s the magic mushroom compound. You know up to this point it had only been described from these hallucinogenic mushrooms. And we found Cathinone which is an amphetamine. These are the same drugs that are used to make ADHD medications and also the same ones that are used to make these bath salts you might have heard of in the news that kind of drive people crazy. It was wild to not only come across one of these psychedelic compounds but to find two of them.”

    So essentially the infected cicadas are tripping and speeding as they lose their abdomens while crawling around thinking nothing is wrong and spreading the fungus as they try to reproduce.

    Kezmoh points out there is no risk unless you are a cicada. “It’s not going to do anything to people, or to your plants, or your pets, but unfortunately for the cicada, it is kind of a death sentence.”

    That said Dr. Kasson says if you consumed enough of the infected cicadas you could feel an effect. But he quickly adds there are enough other compounds in there that you might experience other more serious health impacts.

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    There is no question for the cicada it’s a premature death without reproducing which is the reason they came out of the ground after seventeen years in the first place.