2015 Photo Contest, Nature, Stories, 1st prize

Mindsuckers

Photographer

Anand Varma

National Geographic

07 July, 2013

When a female Dinocampus coccinnellae wasp stings a ladybug, it leaves behind a single egg. After the egg hatches, the larva begins to eat its host from the inside out, carefully avoiding the vital organs. When ready, the parasite emerges and spins a cocoon between the ladybug’s legs. Though its body is now free of the parasite, the bug remains enslaved, standing over the cocoon and protecting it from potential predators. Some ladybugs actually survive this ordeal, re-grow their organs, and make a full recovery.

Many parasites not only feed off their hosts, but appear to manipulate the host’s behavior in a way that is advantageous to the parasite’s life cycle. Recent research indicates that this influence occurs at a genetic level—certain parasite genes seem to be able to take control of the host’s brain. Research has shown that in some cases a single parasite gene is responsible for altering the host’s behavior, though in most instances it is thought that the phenomenon is brought about by a combination of genes.

About

Anand Varma

Anand Varma is a freelance photographer and videographer who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. He started photographing natural history subjects while studying biology at the Universi...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
1/197
Focal length
65.0 mm
F-Stop
13.0
ISO
1250
Camera
Canon EOS 5D Mark III

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