Beware of the wasp that turns its prey into 'zombies'

Josue Torres

This tiny tropical bug brings a whole new definition to the word “parasite.” This is due to the fact that it reproduces by injecting mind-controlling venom into its prey and then uses the body to incubate and feed its offspring.
The Jewel Wasp.Shutterstock

The jewel wasp is also known as the emerald wasp, the emerald cockroach wasp, and the zombie wasp. The jewel wasp gets its last name from the fact that it transforms its cockroach victims into virtual zombies while using their bodies to reproduce.

A female jewel wasp can only mate once in her life. She bears hundreds of fertilized eggs once she has mated. When the time arrives to multiply, the jewel wasp can use sight and sound to spot a cockroach. She then strikes.

It’s far better said than finished. Cockroaches are six to ten times the size of jewel wasps. That is why accuracy is important. A wasp stings a cockroach in the thorax or middle part of the body. She injects a drug that paralyzes the cockroach spontaneously and briefly.

She then stings the cockroach in two different regions of the cockroach brain, identified as the ganglia. The wasp locates the specific regions of the cockroach ganglia to attack using specialized sensory organs on the tip of its stinger. The jewel wasp then injects its mind-control poison.

Zombified cockroaches and mind control

What exactly is the mind-control venom? It’s a neurotoxin that inhibits the molecular octopamine in the cockroach ganglia. The cockroach’s desire to walk is regulated by octopamine. The poison disrupts the cockroach’s escape reflexes. The helpless cockroach is unable to flee to rescue itself.

In principle, this “zombie” condition could wear off in a week. However, the jewel wasp begins working on the zombified cockroach even sooner.

A team of Ben-Gurion University researchers performed a thesis on this mechanism, which was reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

The jewel wasp gnaws off the cockroach’s antennae and clamps down on the stubs before leading the cockroach to a pit, they discovered. What’s fascinating is that the roach is indeed entirely functional but lacks free will. It walks normally into the hole, following the wasp.

The wasp’s larvae and eggs

The jewel wasp lays a single egg on the cockroach after it is placed in a burrow or pit. The jewel wasp then gathers pebbles and constructs a shield around the cockroach to cover the shell. The jewel wasp then flies away to enslave another cockroach.

Meanwhile, the wasp egg hatches after two days. For food, the larva feeds on the cockroach shell. It slurps up hemolymph, which is the nutrient-dense cockroach counterpart of blood.

The larva eats organs in the cockroach’s intestine while it is still alive. After cleaning out the other organs, the larva moves on to the cockroach’s nervous system, taking the cockroach to a merciful end.

A cockroach-shaped temporary residence

After hollowing out the cockroach, the larva adds an antimicrobial secretion to the inner walls of the cockroach corpse.

The larva then develops into a pupa in the protected confines of the cockroach shell during the next month. Finally, a completely grown adult wasp emerges from the cockroach corpse.

The appearance of Jewel Wasps

Ampulex Compressa, the scientific name for the jewel wasp, is about an inch long. It has a blue-green metallic body with red legs. The male, unlike the female, lacks a stinger.

The Department of Entomology of the University of California filmed the entire process between the Jewel Wasp and its victim, the cockroach.

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