Wasps: Yeah, they can Mind Control.

So just to get my biases out of the way, I am terrified of wasps. I will bolt from any social interaction as soon as I hear even the slightest hint of buzzing. 

I am scared of wasps, but I also think they’re pretty cool. From a distance.

Wasp Species’:

There are around 30,000 species of wasps alone, which is more than the number of mammal and bird species combined.

The species that most of us think about when we think of wasps is the paper wasp, characterised by its bold black and yellow colours and elongated body. 

The Common Paper Wasp. Source: Wikipedia Commons

This is the wasp that flies around eating your food, whether it’s been thrown away or not, and the one we probably have memories of being stung by.

However, the wasp family is really quite diverse. It includes the cuckoo wasp which is stunning to look at, as well as the gasteruption jaculator with a large abdomen and a giant ovipositor, which is both a stinger and an egg layer. This particular species lays their eggs in other wasp and bee nests. These eggs then hatch to prey upon the other wasp and bee eggs, which is a little terrifying.

The Brilliant Cuckoo Wasp. Source: Wikipedia Commons
The Dreaded Gasteruption Jaculator. Source: Flickr

Mind Altering Wasp:

And this brings us to the topic of mind control. One species of wasp, dubbed the Jewel Wasp, utilises a particular venom in her sting that can specifically target cockroach’s equivalent of a brain and disable the roach’s ability to resist or flee while her paralysing sting takes effect.

The jewel wasp, but a fraction of the size of the cockroach, circles her prey and waits for the perfect time to strike. When she finds her opening, she dives in and stings the cockroach in the place where it will most effectively paralyse her target.

The Jewel Wasp Feigning Innocence. Source: Wikipedia Commons

As the venom enters the brain, the cockroach is forced to clean itself compulsively, with the inability to do anything else. It continues this for around a half an hour, before the victim loses its will to fight or flee. It still has use of its legs and body, it just kind of refuses to use them anymore.

Feeding the offspring:

While the cockroach cleans itself, the wasp begins the second part of her masterful plan. She searches for a dark burrow where she can leave the controlled roach while her offspring hatch and search for their first meal.

Theoretically, the mind control is not permanent, and wares off in about a week’s time. However, by then the cockroach is going to be baby wasp food.

Once the place has been found and prepared, the final part of the wasp’s plan comes to fruition. She seals the cockroach in the burrow with her larva, where they eventually hatch. Once they do, they awake to a nice zombie-cockroach feast, with the mind controlled cockroach unable to do anything but watch while the wasp larva seal its fate.

From there, the baby wasps eat their fill and then burrow out of the tunnel, to do it all again to another poor unsuspecting cockroach.

It’s the circle of life. But wasps still freak me out.


6 Responses to “Wasps: Yeah, they can Mind Control.”

  1. Isabelle says:

    Woah that’s freaky! I’d be super interested to know if this venom has the same effects on any other species, or if nature has specifically engineered it for roaches. Oh! and if it’s a matter of coevolution. Something that powerful surely has some unique and perhaps useful properties.

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Jennifer! Thanks for your comment! The venom the wasp injects into the cockroach makes the creature clean itself. There have been some tests done on the cockroaches to see if there were other factors causing the cleaning, such as stress from the wasp being close, the wasp landing on the cockroach or even the act of piercing the brain with the wasp’s stinger, but only the venom made the cockroach clean.

    Some scientists say that having the cockroach clean itself creates a fungus-free meal for the wasp’s offspring, while others think it’s just one way to keep the cockroach occupied while the rest of the venom takes hold. Either way it’s crazy! https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-a-wasp-turns-cockroaches-into-zombies/ has some more information if you’re interested!

  3. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Woah woah woah. That is wild! It is blogs like yours that allow me to appreciate nature in all its glory (that is, wasps eating live cockroaches!). As much as I don’t want to know more excruciating details, I am curious.. why does the cockroach clean itself? Why was that part important to mention?

  4. Soumya Mukherjee says:

    What a lovely piece of information …….. this is the circle of life.

  5. Claudia says:

    Hi Chris, I love it! First of all, the heading really intrigued me; ‘How can wasps control minds?’ I wondered. Also, fear of wasps, relatable.
    There is a Moreton Bay Fig tree at my high school which is pollinated by wasps, who would come and inspect our lunches WHILE we were eating them. Traumatising if you’ve been stung by one.
    Also, very unfortunate about the cockroaches. But as you said, it’s a circle of life.

  6. Siân says:

    Wow that’s the stuff of horror movies! But absolutely fascinating, thank you.