Zombie Roaches and Wasp Masters

Posted Feb 2nd, 2006 at 8:46 pm in Nature

If the flatworms with two penises fighting it out wasn’t shocking enough, Carl Zimmer of The Loom reports on the most amazing thing I’ve heard about insects this year.

Ampulex compressa stinging a cockroach
Ampulex compressa attacks roach

There’s a species of wasp which takes control of a cockroach’s body, walks it like a dog back to it’s lair, where it lays it’s eggs to eat the roach from the inside out, all while the roach is still living.

As an adult, Ampulex compressa seems like your normal wasp, buzzing about and mating. But things get weird when it’s time for a female to lay an egg. She finds a cockroach to make her egg’s host, and proceeds to deliver two precise stings. The first she delivers to the roach’s mid-section, causing its front legs buckle. The brief paralysis caused by the first sting gives the wasp the luxury of time to deliver a more precise sting to the head.

[...]

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach’s antennae and leads it — in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex — like a dog on a leash.

The zombie roach crawls where its master leads, which turns out to be the wasp’s burrow. The roach creeps obediently into the burrow and sits there quietly, while the wasp plugs up the burrow with pebbles. Now the wasp turns to the roach once more and lays an egg on its underside. The roach does not resist. The egg hatches, and the larva chews a hole in the side of the roach. In it goes.

Is that cool or what?!

One Response to “Zombie Roaches and Wasp Masters”

  1. [...] I am quite surprised that Carl Zimmer, in research for his book Parasite Rex, did not encounter the fascinating case of the Ampulex compressa (Emerald Cockroach Wasp) and its prey/host the American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana, see also comments on Aetiology and Ocellated). [...]

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