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Zombies, Disinfection, and the Jewel Wasp

January 8, 2013

This gorgeous animal, which measures just under an inch from mandibles to tail, lives across much of Africa and Asia, as well as a few Pacific Islands. Don’t be fooled by its lovely glittering appearance, though. This is a deeply sinister creature. Jewel wasps don’t rear their young in a familiar paper nest. For them, home is the inside of a cockroach.

When the female wasps are ready to lay their eggs, they take to the air and search for roaches. They find them on trees, on the ground, and even in people’s apartments. Since cockroaches don’t want to play host to their young, the wasps have to sneak up on their victims and subdue them–without killing them. So a wasp will sneak up and clamps her mandibles on the roach. As the roach tries to shake her off, the wasp hooks her tail underneath and stings her victim just below the head, temporarily paralyzing the roach’s front legs. Now the roach is easier to handle. The wasp then conducts brain surgery.

The jewel wasp (Ampulex Compressa) snakes its stinger up into the cockroach’s brain, using sensors at its tip to feel its way to specific regions where it then releases cocktails of neurotransmitters. The wasp removes her stinger and walks away to find a crevice that will serve as a suitable burrow. Her first sting wears off, and the roach is now free to run away. Except it doesn’t. It becomes the insect equivalent of a zombie, having lost all will.

All text and Images via The Loom/Carl Zimmer

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