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The Walking Dead: ladybug edition

"Braaaaaaains. Or aphids. I'm not fussy."

“Braaaaaaains. Or aphids. I’m not fussy.”

Zombies are real, and here. But no need to rush out for your shotgun, or your $113,000 zombie shelter. These particular undead pests are a touch smaller than your common or garden-living corpses, and a bit of insect repellent should do the trick.

According to the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal (sorry for the spoiler if your copy hasn’t arrived yet), the parasitic wasp Dinocampus coccinellae has the rather impolite habit of changing its host – the harmless ladybug – into undead bodyguards that protect the wasp’s young, before allowing the ladybug to be eaten by its ungrateful guests. Eugh.

A team of scientists from the Université de Perpignan Via Domitia in France used RNA sequencing to study the heads of both affected and unaffected ladybugs, to figure out just ‘what the hell, man.’  They discovered that the ladybug protecting the larvae of the wasps isn’t acting of its own free-will: its been injected by a virus – christened D. coccinellae or DvPV – which targets the bug’s tiny nervous system. This causes it to be paralyzed, short of occasional tremors to give the illusion of a living, sentient critter, protecting a bunch of lovely ladybug eggs.

Of course, it isn’t: it’s actually protecting a brood of nasty wasp larvae, which hatch from the cocoon and celebrate their first day on Earth with a feast of the ladybug that’s been protecting them.

“This study provides strong support for the fascinating new idea that parasites can use symbiotic microorganisms as biological weapons,” concluded the authors of the paper, presumably before throwing up into a bucket.

There’s something of a happy ending to this tale though. National Geographic reports that a third of the zombified ladybugs make a full recovery from their ordeal. Yes, even the ones who’ve had bits of their insides eaten. Isn’t nature wonderful?

No, not wonderful, that other one: disgusting.

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