The dual life of cicadas: prolific urinators and zombies

The cicadas, which are about to infest the US, expel so much pee that it dwarfs humans and even elephants. And unfortunately they are haunted by a sexually transmitted disease that turns them into zombies

The United States is on the verge of a literal invasion by one of the animal kingdom’s most prolific urinators, a fact that might surprise even elephants. These creatures are cicadas, currently under siege by a sexually transmitted disease that turns them into zombies.

More urine than an elephant

Cicadas, unlike many other insects, opt for the xylem over the phloem for their nutritional needs. The xylem, located within trees, carries water and some nutrients. Despite the challenges other beings face in accessing the xylem, cicadas excel thanks to their oversized heads equipped with a pump-like structure, akin to a tiny straw the width of a hair, enabling them to suck up the liquid. Carrie Deans, an entomologist from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, explained to how cicadas spend nearly their entire life drinking year after year.

A recent study highlighted by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that cicadas outperform elephants and humans in urine production, not just in quantity but also speed, achieving rates of up to 3 meters per second. This is possible due to a muscle that propels liquid waste through a small opening, ejecting it like a jet.

Walking through a forest on a sunny day where cicadas are chorusing can feel like it’s raining. “It’s actually waste coming out the back… It’s called cicada rain,” said John Cooley, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut.

Cicada zombies

Alongside their unusual urinating capability, cicadas face a grim challenge: a deadly sexually transmitted disease caused by a fungus, which turns them into zombies and causes their genitals to fall off.

Cooley noted that in the Midwest, up to 10% of cicada populations could be infected. This poses a risk not just to cicadas but to other species as well, as the fungus has hallucinogenic effects on birds that consume infected cicadas. The white fungus primarily targets males, destroying their gonads and spreading spores to nearby cicadas. This results in sterilization, not death, which might be considered a fate worse than death itself.

“They’re completely at the mercy of the fungus,” Cooley explained. “They’re the walking dead.”

Nature is indeed wonderful, yet it can be merciless.

Sources: / Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Condividi su Whatsapp Condividi su Linkedin