5 min read

The Bizarre Truth Behind This Photo Of Ladybugs In A Dog's Mouth

You may have spotted this warning about oral hygiene gone straight to hell.

The picture, which shows a horde of ladybugs entrenched in the roof of some hapless dog's mouth, is doing brisk business on social media.

The Facebook post has been shared thousands of times, invaded too many timelines and generally freaked out dog owners everywhere.

"Somebody asked me to pass this along..." begins the caption.

Well, at first blush, that "somebody" seems like a sadist. How many millions of dog lovers will see this picture and run to their dogs, prying open their mouths with all the wonder and horror of some Egyptian tomb?

Because this image seems about 1 percent health warning and 99 percent about scaring the bejesus out of us.

Well, hold up. There is that 1 percent.

After this article was published, Connie Tootle Loring of the Florida-based Hands & Paws for Pasco wrote to The Dodo. She says she has seen several similar cases.

"I spent hours researching the facts on this post, as well as speaking with a couple of vets and photography professionals," she noted. "Until the post was featured on my rescue page, people had experience with their pet eating these bugs and getting sick, but had no idea why they were drooling so much and became ill."

And remember, these aren't your garden-variety ladybugs - they're a bigger, meaner species called Asian lady beetles.

Here's a tip. Follow Loring's advice and look for the symptoms (excessive drooling and drowsiness) before you peer under the hood.

Because it's still highly uncommon for dogs to come up with a mouthful of lady beetle - there's been only one documented case. Here's what that 2008 article, published in the journal Toxicon, found:

"A six-year old mixed-breed dog presented with severe trauma to the oral mucosa suggestive of chemical burn. Sixteen Harmonia axyridis (Coccinellidae) were removed from the oral cavity, which revealed trauma consistent with chemical burn. The beetles had become embedded in mucosa covering the hard palate and required manual removal. A diagnosis of beetle induced chemical burn was warranted and consistent with the nature of the chemical constituents of H. axyridis hemolymph."

So if a dog manages to get one of these ladybugs in his mouth - perhaps from a stick or blade of grass - it makes sense that the beetle would fire up its chemical defense system.

That means secreting a toxic, sticky substance that actually hardens on contact with air.

In that context, a platoon of lady beetles encased in their own burning brand of superglue inside a dog's mouth seems possible.

Just, perhaps, not so possible that every dog in the world suddenly needs to open up and say ahhh.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with quotes from Connie Tootle Loring at Hands & Paws for Pasco.