I, for one, welcome our new zombie-roach mind-controlling wasp overlords.

This is one of the most repulsive things that I've read in a long time. Nature truly is disgusting. By the way is this the "Intelligent Design" of a benevolent God? Or could it be that The Devil Does Bugs?

Ampulex compressa:

The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently uses sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

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.

The larva grows inside the roach, devouring the organs of its host, for about eight days. It is then ready to weave itself a cocoon -- which it makes within the roach as well. After four more weeks, the wasp grows to an adult. It breaks out of its cocoon, and out of the roach as well. Seeing a full-grown wasp crawl out of a roach suddenly makes those Alien movies look pretty derivative.

I find this wasp fascinating for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it represents an evolutionary transition. Over and over again, free-living organisms have become parasites, adapting to hosts with exquisite precision. If you consider a full-blown parasite, it can be hard to conceive of how it could have evolved from anything else. Ampulex offers some clues, because it exists in between the free-living and parasitic worlds.


43 Responses:

  1. bodyfour says:

    I wonder if it's possible to do this by hand to a roach... I'm guessing that this "brain surgery" is probably not that precise. It would make a great trick to do at parties.

    Of course, since graduating from college I haven't been at many parties with roaches crawling around. But still...

  2. can I just point out that, in fact, roaches don't have brains? unlike vertebrates, who have one *primary* conglomeration of neruons which we call the "brain", roaches and other invertebrates have multiple ganglia (small groups of neurons sharing a relatively common purpose). also, cockroaches don't have much in the way of pain receptors, so they probably don't "care" all that much about their fate...

    • xah_lee says:

      good post.

      the parts that bugs me about the article is how he describes the probing the brain spot, and the riding of the roach by its antenna. Perhaps it's just a phrasing issue, but as they are they sound ridiculous.

      ∑ XahLee.org

    • So it's our as-always-rampant anthropomorphism* that makes this so frickin' abhorrent?

      * God DAMN, I love that word

      • greyface says:

        I prefer to make up words...

        Anthropomorphocentrism would fit rather cleanly right into that place.

        (Note: Presidents of the U.S.A. and jack-offs on LiveJournal have different standards of behavior)

        • susano_otter says:

          Nah, "anthropomorphocentrism" would be a hangup on the practice of anthropomorphizing everything.

          Which is certainly a valid hangup, but not really what's going on here.

          What's going on here is a hangup on using man as the measure of all things--anthrocentrism--with anthropomorphism as a practical side effect of that hangup.

          Anthropomorphocentrism is a great word, but not really applicable in this case.

  3. wetzel says:

    that's so sweet of you to fix his typos.

  4. tfofurn says:

    This is one of the most repulsive things that I've read in a long time.

    Coming from you, that's quite an endorsement.

  5. It's "intelligence" design... in the hands of a bug.

  6. gths says:

    This is both cool and unbelievably creepy.

  7. allartburns says:


    Um, uh, sorry.

    But roaches, I mean, they fucking deserve what they get, right?

  8. ammonoid says:

    That is so cool. This kind of stuff is why I went into biology. Zombie roach! If the wasps can do mind control it can't be long before we do it. Didn't someone borg roaches?

    • bodyfour says:

      I'm just glad I got the wasp infestation out of my apartment before they did it to me!

      Or maybe they did and I just don't realize it yet... (gulp)

  9. holytramp says:

    Tarantula hawk wasp does something similar to tarantula.
    (Do no have a _good_ link, but google provides plenty of info)

  10. rantzilla says:

    But millions of years of natural selection has allowed Ampulex to reverse engineer its host. We would do well to follow its lead, and gain the wisdom of parasites.

    I'd rather not think about the full implications of that statement.

  11. autopope says:

    I always find it amusing that the proponents of intelligent design seem to think the designer is benevolent.

    All the evidence points to exactly the opposite conclusion. Starting from the lack of effective error-correction in the mitochondrial DNA and working down to things like this.

    • korgmeister says:

      Yeah, see I was going to say something like that. Only you said it way better and with extra added SCIENCE!

      Intelligent Design theory doesn't make any sense at all unless the designer is assumed to be in some way sadistic.

      • sherbooke says:

        When the stars threw down their spears,
        And watered heaven with their tears,
        Did he smile his work to see?
        Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

        Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
        In the forests of the night,
        What immortal hand or eye
        Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

    • charles says:

      Intelligent design is proof the Gnostics were right. God's not really paying attention, and it was the Demiurge all along.

  12. malokai says:

    So there will be three things that survive a nuclear holocaust.. Snack foods, cockroaches, and the things that feed off of the roaches.

  13. mopti says:

    Buying just enough beer to make the cutie you met in the bar docile and compliant while you have sex

  14. rsheridan6 says:

    Michael Moore: All hail the glorious leader!

    • nelc says:

      Do we need to imagine it? I mean, you saw all the blogging about Bush's radio control before the election, right?

  15. That really is fascinating. I for one really appreciate posts like this....the interesting things life has to offer.

  16. cadmus says:

    Why does this just make me think of anime where some monster can do this to schoolgirls with his penis?

  17. lordshell says:

    Awesome! That's way better on the sadistic scale than the tarantula wasp!

    But if you want truly creepy, just look up Botflies or Screwflies.


  18. buz says:

    d00d - I already beat this and raised it...


  19. jkow says:

    Holy shit! Back to the Alien theory. Imagine some bug do that to a human. Crawl in his ear, sting somewhere and lead that man to its nest to lay its eggs in it...

  20. sophyrbugg says:

    Too creepy-a bug that can take the "will" away from its prey. No good can come from that.