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What Bug is Buggin' this Ladybug?

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Ladybird guarding cocoon

Strange as it may seem this apparently shiny, happy ladybird, hugging what looks like a tiny ball of fluff, is actually suffering a life-threatening catastrophe of microscopic proportions.

The problem all started back in the spring when a tiny wasp called Dinocampus coccinellae appeared on the scene.  It flew down and stabbed the ladybird with its ovipositor (egg-laying tube), and laid a single egg inside the ladybird's body.

Ladybird guarding wasp cocoon

Within a week the egg hatched and the parasitic wasp larva which emerged began feeding on the insides of our ladybird here, making sure to avoid it's vital organs.

When summer came it was fully grown and the wasp larva had to escape from its ladybird host.  To do this it paralysed the nerves to the ladybirds legs so that it couldn't move and then it ate its way out through the underside of the ladybird.  Bear in mind that the unfortunate ladybird was still very much alive while all this was happening.

Ladybird guarding wasp cocoon

The wasp larva then climbed out and spun the cocoon you see, ready to pupate between the ladybirds legs.  The now zombie-like and partially paralysed ladybird host was forced to stand guard over it.

Incredibly many ladybirds which get attacked by these wasps survive the awful ordeal and carry on with their lives, doing ladybird-like things, albeit with a bit of a limp and adraughty polo-like hole around their nether region.

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