New Wasp Species Found That Turns Spiders Into Zombies

Posted: Nov 29 2018, 12:07am CST | by , Updated: Nov 29 2018, 12:09am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
New Wasp Species Found that Turns Spiders into Zombies
Zatypota species wasp. Credit: Philippe Fernandez-Fournier

The new wasp species slowly takes control of the body of its hapless victim and transforms it into a zombie.

Researchers have discovered a new manipulative species of wasp that lives in Ecuadorian Amazon. The species, named Zatypota, attack social spiders and transforms them into zombie like drones, forcing them to abandon their colonies.

“Wasps manipulating the behavior of spiders has been observed before, but not at a level as complex as this,” said lead author Philippe Fernandez-Fournier, a former student at University of British Columbia’s department of zoology. "Not only is this wasp targeting a social species of spider but it's making it leave its colony, which it rarely does."

Researchers were studying different kinds of parasites in the nests of Anelosimus eximius spiders in Ecuador when they noticed something unusual. They found that some of the spiders were wandering a foot or two away from their colonies and spinning webs. Anelosimus eximius spiders are one of only 25 species of social spiders worldwide that rarely stray from their basket-shaped nests. They are known for living together in large colonies and performing parental duties inside nests. If these spiders come into contact with parasitic larva, they become infected and begin behaving like zombies. They leave the nest and spin enclosed webs of densely spun silk and bits of foliage outside.

“It was very odd because they don't normally do that, so I started taking notes.” Fernandez-Fournier said.

When researchers carefully took a few of the structures, known as “cocoon webs” and brought them to the laboratory for examination, they found a wasp emerging from the depths.

Analysis revealed that adult female wasps deposits eggs on the abdomen of spiders. When a larva hatches, it attaches itself to its hapless victim and feeds and grow on the spider's blood-like haemolymph. Then the affected spider leaves the colony and spins a cocoon for the larva before being killed and consumed. Later, larva emerge from cocoon fully formed after nine to eleven days.

"The wasp completely hijacks the spider's behavior and brain and makes it do something it would never do, like leave its nest and spinning a completely different structure. That's very dangerous for these tiny spiders." said Samantha Straus, co-author of the study.

"We think the wasps are targeting these social spiders because it provides a large, stable host colony and food source. We also found that the larger the spider colony, the more likely it was that these wasps would target it."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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