Okay. So. Wasps. We all know them. Most of us also know there are a few species that lay their eggs inside a host insect/creature, where the larvae hatch and eat their way out. Gruesome, but most of us have gotten kind of use to the idea.
Then along comes Ampulex compressa. The Emerald Cockroach Wasp. Does it lay its eggs inside a host (specificlly a cockroach)? Nah. Not technically. Lays them outside, larvae burrow in. Is the host dead while this happens? Oh, hell no. Does the host struggle against this at all? Nope. Just lets it happen. Why does it just sit there, then, without a care in the world?
Simple reason, really. Because THE WASP HAS EATEN ITS BRAINS!!!
....okay, not really. It hasn't eaten the brains, oh no, no, no. It's actually much worse. Ampulex compressa inserts its stinger into the exoskeleton of the cockroach after temporarily paralyzing it, slowly works the thing into a specific region of the cockroach's brain, and then injects a second toxin that kills the cockroach's escape drive. But, the horror isn't over. Oh, oh no. The wasp then takes the zombie cockroach's antennae and...get this...leads it like a dog on a leash back to its burrow, where it then lays an egg on its underside and seals the thing up.
Wasp larvae in a sealed tomb.
Wasp later breaks out of cockroach shell a few months later.
Guys, seriously. What if this was in space? Some weird creature that can paralyze you and then lays an egg nearby where you can't escape...egg hatches, larvae burrows its way into you...later bursts out your chest...huh...this sounds so familiar. Oh yeah, that's right! ALIENS! They're right here...the whole damn time. Waiting.
Waiting for you.
(Two notes to take away from this...1) Zombie cockroaches is a friggen terrifying idea. Zombies. Cockroaches. Put them together. Feel scared. 2) Check out Carl Zimmer's other books, especially Parasite Rex. You won't regret it. Okay, maybe you'll be really freaked out and wish you hadn't read it, but you won't regret it. Promises. 'Kay.)
Some videos below the fold...
First, a short of the thing attacking a cockroach, linked to here.
I like (and I use that term loosely) how after the brain surgery the cockroach is just like "huh...well...Good time for cleaning the old legs. Oh, hey, it's a wasp. That's cool dude. Oh, you want me to go over there? Nah, I don't think it's a good idea...oh, oh, okay...I'll follow you. Hold my head." Just, amazing stuff.
Next, the "birth" of said scary wasp from a dead body:
Ain't science cool?!