Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wasps as Perpetrators of Viral Bioterror Against Ladybugs

Yesterday under the Weird&Wild heading of National Geographic News an article was published about viral bioterror and mind control among insect species.  New research suggests that a wasp called Dinocampus coccinellae uses a virus designated D. coccinellae paralysis virus (DcPV) to alter the behavior of another species of insect, the spotted lady beetle Coleomegilla maculate.  

The story is a bit gory:  the wasp appears to deliberately inject the virus into the ladybug along with its own offspring.  Remarkably, the ladybug tolerates the wasp grub, which grows as it nourishes itself on ladybug's bodily fluids.  The virus initially replicates inside the wasp egg but when the wasp is ready to emerge from the ladybug it releases the virus inside the ladybug.  The virus attacks the nervous system of the ladybug, making it act like a zombie bodyguard.  The ladybug stands guard over the attached but now external cocoon of the still-developing wasp grub, involuntarily lending its many potent toxins to the cause of protecting the wasp.  The reminiscence of this behavior to that of a zombie is enhanced by the occasional spasming of the ladybug as a side effect of the viral infection in its nervous system.  Fascinatingly, there is ongoing debate about how to classify this polydnavirus--and whether it even counts as a virus--because it has ben co-evolving with the wasp for so long and its DNA is integrated into the wasp genome itself.  As if this story couldn't get any more amazingly strange, it turns out about one third of the time the ladybug actually survives and fully recovers from being eaten alive from the inside and subsequently zombified.

Read the whole story here:

A zombified ladybug stands guard.

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