Zombie Cicadas: Insect STD can cause hallucinatory effect on birds that might eat them

WASHINGTON - The 2024 invasion of the red-eyed bugs is almost here – but a sexually transmitted disease could turn some cicadas into zombies right before our eyes!

This year, the periodical cicadas are expected to appear across different parts of the United States by mid-May in numbers not seen in over two centuries. That’s because two broods emerging simultaneously in some areas will inundate us with billions – if not trillions – of cicadas at the same time.

The biggest threat to the insects are usually birds and mammals hungry for a snack. But entomologist John Cooley says the bugs are also threatened by a sexually transmitted disease - a fungus – that can turn the cicadas into zombies and cause their private parts to fall off.

"This is a sexually transmitted zombie disease," Cooley told the Associated Press. He said the phenomenon is "even stranger than science fiction" and said that the fungus can have a hallucinatory effect on birds that might eat the unlucky bugs.

READ MORE: When do cicadas come out in 2024? What to know ahead of emergence in MD, VA and DC area

The University of Connecticut entomologist said that after the white fungus takes over the male, their gonads are torn from their body and chalky spores are spread around to nearby other cicadas. The insects are sterilized, not killed, Cooley said, allowing the fungus to use the cicada to spread to others.

"They’re completely at the mercy of the fungus," Cooley said. "They’re walking dead."

Once they arrive, Brood XIX, the 13-year cicadas, and Brood XIII, the 17-year cicadas, will stick around through late June. While parts of Maryland and Virginia may see cicadas, none are expected to emerge in the immediate D.C. area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.