06 Feb

When Zombies Become Real

ladybug

From the film The Night of the Living Dead, to the modern television series The Walking Dead, the last thing you want to wake up to is a zombie apocalypse. Zombies might look human, yet they stumble around intent on ruining our cities and going after our brains. No matter how clever Hollywood film makers become, the terrifying world of insects has them beat. Zombies are real and you can find them throughout North America and the world.

Real Life Zombies
Before you run off to purchase a crossbow, you need to know that a flyswatter is all you need to stop the creation of a zombie. Besides, you and your family are safe, the only critter that needs to be concerned is a little black and red insect lovingly called the ladybug. If you look close enough you might find ladybug zombies in your flower beds and garden. The culprit is Dinocampus coccinellae, which is a tiny parasitic wasp smaller than a grain of rice.

The wasp finds a suitable ladybug, attacks and inserts a small egg into the insects’ underside. Once the egg hatches, the larva begins to consume the interior of the defenseless ladybug. On the outside, the ladybug appears to be the same. The nutrients of everything the ladybug eats, goes to the developing monster within its body. After a few weeks, the larva becomes large enough to break free. It slices through the underbelly of the ladybug and develops into a cocoon as it changes from larva to adult wasp. The cocoon is attached to the underside of the ladybug. The larva might have left the inside of the ladybug, but it still controls its mind.

The Zombie Ladybug
There is little left of the once proud ladybug. Its sole purpose has been transformed to protect the wasp developing beneath it. When predators get close, it wiggles its legs in a threatening manner. Ladybugs have a distinctive coloring pattern for a reason. Like monarch butterflies, the colors act as a warning to would be predators. If a bird eats a ladybug, the insect releases a toxic chemical from its legs. The taste is so terrible that birds will spit the bug out. Ladybug shells are tough. The ladybug stalks plants like a tank. All of these protective attributes now serve the wasp parasite. In a cocoon, the wasp is vulnerable to predators; with the help of the ladybug the wasp is protected. When the wasp leaves, the ladybug is ended.

Should you be concerned?
Yes! Though the zombie parasite will never affect you directly, it can influence the availability of your food. Ladybugs are a fantastic predator. Throughout its life time, it will consume thousands of aphids and other agricultural pests. They protect the food you eat and keep it healthy. In Great Britain, an outbreak of parasitic zombie wasps became severe enough that crops were no longer safe from aphid infestations; the sickened crops died. Zombies can affect you. Next time you see a ladybug thrashing around on a plant, grab a flyswatter.

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