Thu
Jul 21 2011 11:32am

Parasitic Wasp Employs Zombie Ladybug to Guard Cocoon

Parasitic Wasp Employs Zombie Ladybug to Guard Cocoon

To quote esteemed mad scientist Seth Brundle, “Insects don’t have politics.” Theirs is a world of intricate brutality and wasps have been excelling in it for more than a hundred million years.

This latest example comes to us in this paper from France’s CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) and it concerns a wasp that not only hatches from its egg inside the belly of a ladybug, but upon emerging forces its eviscerated host to guard its cocoon while it transitions from larva to full-grown horror wasp.

Dinocampus coccinellae is its name and one can only imagine that Zombie author Joyce Carol Oates keeps a few of them as pets.

To recap, parasitism runs big in the wasp world. As  I explain in How Wasps Work, the ancient wasps of the Cretaceous period were predatory and carnivorous. They ate arachnids and other insects and they LOVED it. But then the rise of the angiosperms introduced an even better food source: nectar and pollen. So the wasps of old largely abandoned their flesh-eating ways, except for the carnivorous feasts required by their squirming young. Some wasps abandoned this practice all together (and became bees), but you’ll still find countless varieties of wasps that either deposit their eggs inside a living host (that’s what the stinger evolved for) or who fill larval chambers in their nest with stunned meals.

So the fact that that Dinocampus coccinellae hatches inside the belly of a host bug following some makeshift, catastrophic surgery by its parent is nothing out of the ordinary. But when it celebrates its Chest-Burst Mitzvah, that’s when it gets all weird and noteworthy. Normally, the host organism mercifully dies at this point, but DC’s ladybug is not so lucky. Not only does it live, but a little behavior modification forces it to hang around and “guard” its parasite-baby as it grows into adulthood beneath its protective bulk. Scientists believe that secretions left by the larva when it bursts out might play a role in reprograming the host.

But then the ladybug dies right? Surely once the wasp reaches adulthood, our long-suffering host can at last rest in peace. No such luck. This is the insect world, after all. The researchers found that 25 percent of the manipulated ladybugs recovered normal behavior following their ordeal.

I’m really hoping this makes it into the next PIXAR A Bug’s Life movie.

So there you have it! You can find the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast on iTunes, Zune, and the RSS feed. And don’t forget the free HowStuffWorks App!

Image source: nutmeg66/Creative commons

Originally published at HSW: Parasitic Wasp Employs Zombie Ladybug to Guard Cocoon


Robert Lamb is a senior staff writer at HowStuffWorks.com and co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast and blog. He is also a regular contributor to Discovery News. Follow him on Twitter @blowthemind.

 

8 comments
brisedete
2. brisedete
But wait...if the larva ate the ladybug's insides, how does she survive?! D:
Kimani Rogers
3. KiManiak
This is more like the aliens from the Aliens franchise then Zombies. Although apparently the ladybug still survives for awhile...
brisedete
4. johntocaelpiano
I liked this article up until the bit when you reminded me about JCO's disturbing book about a pedophile performing transorbital lobotomies on his victims.

*shudder*
brisedete
5. johntocaelpiano
Nah, I'm just playin', I still liked this article :3
brisedete
6. MadMusial
Had to share this with a few people at work. I think the concept is pretty gnarly. It could be an awesome premise for a movie or story if you beefed up the scale of the insect. Or perhaps some kind of alien organism imagine a bug like the the size of an elephant or a hippo...
brisedete
7. Stacy Sargent
Had to share . . . I had never heard of this before this happened to our pet ladybug a few days ago. Very weird. Now to explain it to the kids!!
brisedete
8. thegreattailz
what about that cricket that commits suicide so its host can live?

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