When venturing into the human colon, there are a few things gastroenterologists might expect to see. A tumor, scarring, ulcers, and a little bit of poop are all commonplace, but sometimes investigations into the bowel reveal more surprising inhabitants. A clinical team, who published their findings in the ACG Case Reports Journal in 2019, could certainly attest to this, as they stumbled upon a ladybug inside the colon of a patient.
We humans love to eat, and while evolution has blessed us with a sophisticated system for processing food, its many kinks and complexities mean the ol’ poop chute can sometimes fall into disrepair. Thankfully, modern medicine has reached a point by which we can jump in and take a look at our internal plumbing in a procedure known as a colonoscopy. The uncomfortable but sometimes life-saving investigation sees a camera sent upstream into the colon through the anus, weaving around the full length of the large intestine. Here, it can find cancer, evidence of disease and, evidently, ladybugs.
Anyone that’s had one knows that preparing for a colonoscopy is grueling work. In order to get the best images, the bowel needs to be as empty as possible and, as such, getting the picture-perfect colon is a process of abstinence and purging. The exact cocktail used to clear the stage for our ladybug’s guest star appearance was polyethylene glycol, an osmotic laxative used to treat constipation. The researchers on the illuminating colonoscopy hypothesize that the ladybug may have survived to such a late stage in the digestive process looking quite fresh thanks to a sped-up journey through the bowels, facilitated by the poop-inducing goop.
“The patient's colonoscopy preparation was 1 gallon of polyethylene glycol the evening before colonoscopy, and the colonoscopy examination was otherwise normal,” wrote the authors. “His colonoscopy preparation may have helped the bug to escape from digestive enzymes in the stomach and upper small intestine.”
As for how the ladybug came to be inside this 59-year-old man in the first place, the jury’s still out, but it’s likely it slipped in while the man was sleeping. In the paper, the authors identify it as Harmonia axyridis, which was introduced to North America as a means of pest control back in the early 1900s, and note that its “red-orange to dull cream colors are particularly eye-catching”. Quite the colorway for accessorizing one's colon.
As it turns out, ladybugs aren’t the only beetle capable of surviving (in the intact corpse sense) a trip down colon lane. In a series of tweets, gastrointestinal specialist Dr Keith Siau shared several case studies where cockroaches had also been discovered during colonoscopies, proving that even with our advanced science and medicine we remain – sometimes, quite literally – at one with nature.