Abstract Microbial mutualistic symbiosis is increasingly recognised as a hidden driving force in the ecology of plant–insect interactions. Although plant-associated and herbivore-associated symbionts clearly affect interactions between plants and herbivores, the effects of symbionts associated with higher trophic levels has been largely overlooked. At the third-trophic level, parasitic wasps are a common group of insects that can inject symbiotic viruses (polydnaviruses) and venom into their herbivorous hosts to support parasitoid offspring development. Here, we show that such third-trophic level symbionts act in combination with venom to affect plant-mediated interactions by reducing colonisation of subsequent herbivore species. This ecological effect correlated with changes induced by polydnaviruses and venom in caterpillar salivary glands and in plant defence responses to herbivory. Because thousands of parasitoid species are associated with mutualistic symbiotic viruses in an intimate, specific relationship, our findings may represent a novel and widespread ecological phenomenon in plant–insect interactions.