How Roaches Fight Off Wasps That Turn Their Victims Into Zombies

— Written By

Susan Milius | Science News | 10/31/2018

Real-life fights against zombie-makers offer plenty of tips for avoiding undeath. Just ask cockroaches, targets of the emerald jewel wasp.

The female wasps (Ampulex compressa) specialize in attacking the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). If a wasp succeeds, she leads away an unprotesting roach like a dog on a leash just by tugging at a roach antenna. Then she lays an egg on the roach and buries the insect alive as living meat for a wasp larva. Though a normal roach could dig itself out, there’s no sign that the wasp-stung ones can even try.

Image of a roach

Kansas Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

To the roaches, the wasp “is a dedicated, goal-oriented, deft parasitoid coming for your brain,” says neurobiologist Kenneth Catania at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He has recently created an impressive collection of slo-mo attack videos, providing the first detailed look at how some roaches fight back.

To avoid being leash-walked to the tomb, vigilance was vital. In 28 out of 55 attacks that Catania videoed in a confined lab space, roaches didn’t seem to notice the threat quickly. Their attackers needed only about 11 seconds on average to ease close and conquer.

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