I smell a Star Trek plot. A virus that kills within weeks propagates itself throughout cricket communities by making the crickets extremely sexually active. This is the exact sort of thing that Captain Kirk was made to deal with.
People have known about iridovirus, a virus that infects crickets, for a long time. A study from 1999 notes some of the symptoms of the virus. Inside the exoskeleton, a cricket’s organs swell up due to hypertrophy - the swelling of individual cells. Fat cells turn a strange, slightly-iridescent blue. Within weeks, the crickets are dead.
It wasn’t until 2014 that a biologist noticed a new symptom. She kept a colony of crickets, which got infected with the virus. As she sat in her lab, idly watching her crickets die of a superplague, she noticed something odd. They were mating far more than they usually would. Female crickets usually dial back the mating when they have a virus, but the females infected with iridovirus had their usual high libido, even in the last few days of their lives.
Male crickets, meanwhile, seemed even more likely to court a female cricket than they had before. An experiment showed that an infected male cricket, when put in a space with a female, starting up a courtship song in three minutes, less than a third the time it would usually take. And just to make sure that the crickets didn’t spend time trying to hatch eggs when they should be bonking infections into each other, the virus sterilized infected crickets.
Is it just me, or is this the perfect science fiction plot? Mind control, sauciness, and that tell-tale iridescent blue, which would look great on camera as a marker of the Dread Disease. I don’t know why Star Trek didn’t cover it. I guess there’s still the next movie.
Top photo by Sam Droege.