In today’s edition of “Bugs do what?”, we look at parasitic wasps that turn ladybugs (or ladybird beetles if you prefer) into zombies and slave ants who rebel against their masters by attacking their offspring.
There are a number of parasitic species that attack other species and turn them into zombies but little is known about how many accomplish this. According to a new report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers studied parasitic Dinocampus coccinellae wasps and found they lay their eggs inside spotted lady beetles (Coleomegilla maculata).
Those eggs eventually hatch and the pupae spin cocoons inside the lady beetles but that’s not what makes them zombies. The zombification is caused by a virus inside the egg , which eventually triggers paralysis and tremors that turn them into zombie bodyguards of their incubating baby wasps. While that eventually kills the beetles in the wild, the researchers found that the ladybugs can return to normal if the virus is removed.
Slave-making ants (there are a number of species that do this) raid nearby nests, kill the adults and enslave their broods, turning them into caretakers for themselves and their own offspring. This has gone on for so long, some of these slave-makers are unable to feed or clean themselves.
It was thought that the slave ants are submissive to their masters until death, but a new study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology found that Temnothorax longispinosus ants enslaved by Protomognathus americanus ants rebel by killing their masters’ offspring. However, there are no tiny ant voices crying “Freedom!” in this process. Instead, the slaves are actually doing it to protect the nests of their relatives from future attacks and enslavement by reducing the number of slave-making ants.
Without getting too anthropomorphic here, the cruelty of wasps is not surprising but who knew ants could be so altruistic? The insect world is truly amazing.
And yes … zombie ladybugs and slave ant rebellions are in the plot of my next movie.