Twitching Zombie Ladybugs: Unraveling the Mystery Behind This Phenomenon

Twitching Zombie Ladybugs have raised curiosity and concern among insect enthusiasts and gardeners alike. These seemingly strange occurrences have caught the attention of people, especially when ladybugs are known for being beneficial insects in our gardens, helping to control plant-damaging pests. The phenomenon behind Twitching Zombie Ladybugs is both intriguing and vital for understanding the role they play in the insect world.

The name “Twitching Zombie Ladybugs” may sound terrifying, but there’s a remarkable scientific explanation behind their unusual behavior. This phenomenon is caused by a parasitic wasp, Dinocampus coccinellae, which preys on ladybirds. The wasp injects an egg into the ladybug, and when the larva hatches, it starts devouring the host’s internal organs. Interestingly, the ladybug is still alive and remains on top of the wasp pupa, twitching intermittently as a form of protection.

While this extraordinary process allows the wasp to nurture its offspring, it also highlights the complex and dynamic interactions between different insect species. Understanding these relationships can provide valuable insights into maintaining a healthy ecosystem, where Twitching Zombie Ladybugs play a small but significant role.

Twitching Zombie Ladybugs Explained

Dinocampus Coccinellae Parasite

Dinocampus coccinellae is a parasitic wasp that targets ladybugs. The female wasp lays her eggs inside the ladybug’s abdomen, where the larva grows and feeds on the host.

  • Wasp: Parasitic wasp species
  • Ladybugs: The host of the parasite

Mind Control

When the larva is ready to pupate, it releases a cocktail of chemicals, which effectively zombifies the ladybug. The ladybug then starts twitching uncontrollably, a behavior that:

  • Deters predators, who perceive the twitching as a sign of a sick or dangerous prey.
  • Protects the wasp pupa, housed beneath the twitching ladybug.

Bodyguard Behavior

The ladybug then becomes a “bodyguard” for the wasp’s cocoon. It remains on top of the cocoon, still twitching periodically to ward off predators. The pros and cons of this parasitic relationship are:

Pros:

  • The wasp larva gets protection from predators.
  • The ladybug sometimes survives the process.

Cons:

  • The ladybug experiences a decrease in its quality of life.
  • Many ladybugs die as a result of the parasitic infestation.
Feature Ladybugs Dinocampus Coccinellae
Role Host and involuntary bodyguard Parasite
Primary Function Act as a predator deterrent Lay eggs inside ladybugs
Movement Behavior Twitching None

In summary, twitching zombie ladybugs are created when the parasitic wasp Dinocampus coccinellae lays its eggs inside a ladybug’s abdomen, leading to mind control and bodyguard behaviors.

The Biology Behind the Phenomenon

University of Montreal Research

Researchers from the University of Montreal have discovered a fascinating interaction between spotted lady beetles (Coleomegilla maculata) and a parasitoid wasp. When infected by the wasp, the lady beetle exhibits “zombie-like” bodyguard behavior. Fanny Maure, one of the lead researchers, published the findings in Biology Letters.

D. Coccinellae Paralysis Virus

The main culprit behind this phenomenon is the D. coccinellae paralysis virus, which infects adult spotted lady beetles. This virus is lethal, altering the beetle’s biology and ultimately leading to paralysis. These infected beetles are referred to as “zombie ladybugs.”

Non-infected Ladybug Infected “Zombie” Ladybug
Host Manipulation No Yes
Paralysis No Yes
Longevity Normal Reduced
  • Pro: The virus is effective at manipulating the host.
  • Con: Infected ladybugs have reduced longevity.

Host Manipulation Mechanisms

The virus effectively takes over the beetle’s cells, altering their genes and mechanisms, which in turn affects their behavior. The spotted lady beetle becomes a “zombie,” protecting the parasitoid wasp’s eggs and developing larvae from natural enemies.

Examples of host manipulation by the virus include:

  • Increased bodyguard behavior
  • Paralysis (to protect the wasp’s larvae)
  • Reduced survival

Despite being a fascinating natural phenomenon, it’s crucial to understand that these events have detrimental consequences for the spotted lady beetle population. The insight gained from studying this intricate biological interaction may further contribute to the scientific understanding of host-parasite relationships and host manipulation mechanisms.

Other Examples of Parasitic Behavior

Spider Manipulation by Fungus

A fascinating example of parasitic behavior can be observed in the interaction between spiders and the Ophiocordyceps fungus. The fungus infects spiders, leading to behavioral changes in the host:

  • Infected spiders spin a specific type of web
  • This web supports the fungus’s fruiting body
  • The spider dies and releases spores from the fungus, helping it spread

This type of manipulation benefits the fungus by ensuring its survival and reproduction.

Lacewings and Their Natural Enemies

Lacewings are insects known for their usefulness in controlling pests in gardens and agricultural fields. However, they can also fall victim to parasitic behavior:

  • Wasps lay eggs in lacewing larvae, turning them into parasitoid hosts
  • The wasp larvae consume the lacewing’s resources and eventually paralyze it, using it as protection against predators

Comparison table:

Species Type of Parasite Host Manipulation Outcome
Ophiocordyceps fungus Fungus Alters spider web-spinning behavior Fungal reproduction and dispersal
Wasp Insect Attacks lacewing larva Consumption of host’s resources and protection against predators

These examples of parasitic behavior in ladybirds, spiders, and lacewings demonstrate how diverse organisms have evolved complex strategies for exploiting their hosts in order to survive and reproduce.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Read about Twitching Zombie Ladybugs

 

Ed. Note: Our crack technical staff brought this wonderful link to our attention.  Read about a Wasp that parasitizes Lady Bugs here: http://gizmodo.com/5815382/twitching-zombie-ladybugs-make-great-shelters?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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