Wasp larvae have a tendency of colonizing spiders. These then become zombies who will build nesting grounds.
Wasps happen to be maligned insects as opposed to their more useful cousins, the bees. But these stinging creatures are up to more than meets the eye. They comprise 100,000 species. And the varieties of wasps vary from the benign to the strange and surreal.
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A novel study has shown that one species even colonizes the body of its spider host. Called the Reclinervellus nielseni, this special insect infests its host, the orb-weaver spider.
It all starts with the adult wasp depositing an egg on the body of the spider. The host-parasite relationship is complex. It shows how the latter alters the former’s behavior. Once the baby wasps hatch in the form of larvae, they feed on the fluids within the spider’s abdomen.
The spider acts as if nothing happened. But at a certain stage the behavior of the spider undergoes radical changes. This is due to the wasp larvae. They send chemical neuro-signals to the spider’s brain. These messages force the spider to build a nest for the larvae to evolve into adult wasps.
Under ordinary circumstances, the spider builds two types of webs. One is the normal orb web which gets used to catch prey. The other one is the resting web. But the colonized spider builds a third type of web. This is a cocoon web. And it builds it just before the larvae transform into adults wasps that kill the spider.
Thus the wasps have used or abused the spider in the most classic definition of those two words. All three types of webs got examined by scientists. It turned out that cocoon webs were like the other two. But they were stronger and more tensile in their structure.
In the final analysis, the spiders sit at the center of the web and the wasps which are adults by now kill them. The wasps secrete hormones that mimic the moulting hormones of the spiders.
The spiders appear to be drugged into becoming zombies. At least, that is what the whole situation looks like when observed. This sort of behavior is common in some wasps. The wasps that cause a commotion at picnics are different from these colonizing wasps.
Most wasps lead isolated lives and are predatory. And some of them are kleptoparasites. They lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps or bees. This is a behavior like the cuckoo bird which lays its egg in the nests of other birds.
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This study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology.