Zombie Ladybugs

Ladybug_Swarm

Zombies are all the rage these days from hit Hollywood movies, to the critically acclaimed The Walking Dead television series; with some cities even sponsoring Zombie runs.

In the bug world, we’ve become acquainted with zombie ants and zombie bees; now we can add zombie ladybugs to the mix.

In news of the completely cool and awesome, one sting from a parasitic wasp can inflict a newly discovered virus into a ladybug; turning the ladybug into the wasp’s zombie slave.

Zombie Ladybugs

Zombie Ladybug Cocoon
Source: sciencemag.org

In the insect world, stings from wasps aren’t always intended to kill or ward off an intruder. In the case of a parasitic wasp, Dinocampus coccinellae, stinging a ladybug will turn the beetle into a zombie babysitter of sorts.

When the parasitic wasp stings the ladybug, it lays its egg inside the hapless creature. The incubating ladybug goes about it’s business for weeks as the parasitic wasp larva grows within it; feasting on its internal organs. Three weeks later a wasp larva bursts from the ladybug’s belly and weaves itself a cocoon; a cocoon that will be attached to the undercarriage of the bug. You’d think the process would kill the ladybug, but no. The bug simply becomes paralyzed. The virus then takes over the ladybug’s brain.

The ladybug starts to involuntarily twitch, and full zombie transformation has occurred (minus the whole eating brains thing). The poor zombie bug essentially becomes a zombie bodyguard, protecting the wasp egg with its life; watching over the young and fighting off predators. An adult wasp will emerge from the cocoon a week later.

Remarkably, about 25 percent of these zombie ladybugs will recover and return to their non-zombified selves; some even get stung and infected again!

Scientists are studying the process, looking at the potential of the virus being used as a neurological weapon… Used to turn people into zombies!

The cool and crazy insect world continues to amaze!

 

Halloween Ants: 3 Ants Inspired By The Things Of Our Nightmares

What do Halloween spooks like vampires, ghosts, and zombies have to do with the picnic ruining, biting, stinging, and all around pesky ant? More than you might think!

Here are three different species of ant that are inspired by the things of our nightmares:

Dracula AntDracula Ants

Horrifying ants that suck blood… Say it isn’t so! Dracula ants (Adetomyrma venatrix) are named after the very famous fictitious vampire count Dracula; because of the grisly way in which these ants feast on the blood of their young. Well, technically it’s not the blood of their young that Dracula ants are drinking, but rather the hemolymph or ant blood equivalent. This practice is actually a form of non-destructive cannibalism, as it doesn’t kill the ant larvae.

If you think the ant larvae are simply providing a public service to the rest of the colony, letting hungry worker ants scratch and chew holes through their bodies as they feast on their blood; than think again. Scientists have witnessed the young Dracula ant larvae try to flee in fear, whenever a hungry work ant enters their chamber.

Dracula ants are primarily found in Madagascar, and are actually an engendered species. A typical colony will have about 10,000 ants, and have been found making nests in things like rotting logs and tree stumps. They are orange in color, and have abdomens that resemble wasps more than they do ants.

Ghost AntsGhost Ants

That tiny translucent creature crawling across your kitchen this Halloween is not a pint-size apparition with legs. It’s not the visible manifestation of that bug you squashed with your shoe last week either. Rather, it’s the pesky Ghost Ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum).

Found in Florida, Texas, Iowa, and Hawaii, these ants can be rather spooky for homeowners; as they intrude looking for food. Ghost ants get their name from their distinctive ghost-like appearance; translucent colored abdomen and legs. Unlike the Dracula ant, which feeds on the blood of their young, Ghost ants primarily feed on the honeydew they collect from plant-feeding insects like aphids.

Zombie Ants

You wake in a puddle of some unknown and impious fluid. You disjointedly crawl to your feet, but have no control over your body. You are no longer the living organism you thought you once were, but are some sort of rotting corpse; a hollow vessel harboring something disturbing inside. You’re confused, disorientated, and no longer seem to have any self-control. Most believe you’re dead, but fortunately your loved one’s think you are still alive – your soul still somewhere deep inside this now walking monster of a creature. Whatever sinister it may be, one thing is certain, you only want to satisfy your desire to eat others of your kind and spread the virus within.

No I’m not talking about the pilot to AMC’s The Walking Dead. I’m talking about ZOMBIE ANTS!

Zombie Ant

When I say zombie ants, I’m not referring to a specific species of ant named a “Zombie ant,” but rather a condition affecting tropical Carpenter ants that happen to come into contact with a certain type of fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis). This fungus is a mind-leeching parasite responsible for creating extensive hoards of the zombie ants. Once the fungus has infiltrated the ant’s brain, it will become powerless to resist the calculated directives of its subversive ruler. After spending some time in this zombie-like state, the infected ant will die at a spot that has optimal reproduction conditions for the fungus. The fungus will sprout from the zombie ant’s head, almost like a tombstone, and release more parasitic spores that will infect other ants.

You can watch the whole process here:

 

What’s the scariest ant you’ve ever encountered?