Parasitic Dinocampus coccinellae wasps lay their eggs inside spotted lady beetles (Coleomegilla maculata). The pupae hatch and spin cocoons, and the ladybugs become zombielike bodyguards. A virus that lives in the wasp’s egg sacks does the actual zombification, researchers report February 11 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Researchers found that a symbiotic RNA virus replicates in the host’s brain tissue, which triggers paralysis and tremors. Once ladybugs clear the virus from their system, they behave normally again. Rather than deploying a neurotoxin, the wasps could be using this virus as a biological weapon against their hosts, the authors suggest.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect that the lady beetle pictured above belongs to an unconfirmed species.