A Wasp Finds the Seat of the Cockroach Soul

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

Ampulex%20stinging If blogs could have mascots, the Loom’s would be the Emerald Cockroach Wasp (Ampulex compressa). Back in 2006, I first wrote about the grisly sophistication of this insect, which turns cockroaches into zombie hosts to be devoured by their offspring. Since then I’ve blogged from time to time about new research on this parasite’s parasite. Last year I sang the praises of the Emerald Cockroach Wasp on the NPR show Radiolab, and, to my surprise, brought some peace of mind to a very scared kid.

Scientists still don’t understand the wasp very well, though, and so I decided last night to see if anyone had discovered something new about it recently. It turns out Ram Gal and Frederic Libersat, two scientists at Ben Gurion University in Israel, just published a paper in which they reveal one of the secrets to zombification. In effect, they identified the seat of the cockroach soul.

Before I describe the new results, let me just refresh your memory about what the Emerald Cockroach Wasp actually does.

Like many parasites, the Emerald Cockroach Wasp manipulates its host’s behavior for its own benefit. As I explain in Parasite Rex, parasites make their hosts do lots of different things (get them into the body of their next host, act as a bodyguard, or build them a shelter to name a few examples). The Emerald Cockroach Wasp needs a live, tame cockroach to feed its babies.

When the female wasp is ready to lay her eggs, she seeks out a cockroach. Landing on the prospective host, she delivers two precise stings.

More here.