The jewel wasp’s venom is potent on two levels.  With the first stab of its stinger, the wasp paralyzes the much larger cockroach.  The neurotransmitter GABA, inserted into the thorax of the cockroach, causes temporary paralysis by shutting down motor neurons.  The paralysis allows for the second stab — a perfectly targeted attack on a specific area of the cockroach brain (the subesophageal and supraesophageal ganglion).  Scientists think a dopamine-like compound in the venom causes the careful cleaning behavior, while the GABA again works to shut down neurons, to ensure the cockroach doesn’t run away.  This guarantees it will be there waiting to be eaten alive by the wasp’s offspring.  That’s a pretty horrific way to die!

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References

Scientific American: How a Wasp Turns Cockroaches into Zombies

Kaiser, M., & Libersat, F. (2015). The role of the cerebral ganglia in the venom-induced behavioral manipulation of cockroaches stung by the parasitoid jewel wasp. Journal of Experimental Biology, 218(7), 1022-1027.

Scientific American: Watch a Wasp Take Control of a Cockroach’s Brain

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Kayleen Schreiber

Kayleen is obsessed with the brain. After majoring in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, she went straight to a PhD program in neuroscience at the University of Iowa. She currently studies how our brains process speech. She measures electrical changes produced by the brain to understand how the gender of a person talking influences how we hear their speech. Outside the lab, she works to get others excited about science and occasionally plays the bassoon.
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Kayleen Schreiber

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Kayleen is obsessed with the brain. After majoring in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, she went straight to a PhD program in neuroscience at the University of Iowa. She currently studies how our brains process speech. She measures electrical changes produced by the brain to understand how the gender of a person talking influences how we hear their speech. Outside the lab, she works to get others excited about science and occasionally plays the bassoon.

3 Comments

  1. It may actually be an ecstatic way to die with all that dopamine. And, you get to die clean so that does away with the ritual body-washing common in many cultures. I can think of worse ways.

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