Wasps With Mind-Controlling Capabilities Could Lead to Serious Scientific Advances

Networks of evolutionary adaptations throughout the history of time have allowed animals to acquire incredible traits that resemble phenomena only imaginable in science-fiction novels. However, the terrifying abilities of several genera of wasps are completely real life. The scientific name Ampulex compressa identifies a wasp more commonly known as the emerald cockroach wasp.  These natural villains actually take over the minds of roaches. The parasitic wasps inject a cocktail of venomous fluids into the bodies of cockroaches, initially paralyzing them. After the roach has lost all bodily control the wasps then go straight for the brain injecting their serum with insane precision, allowing the wasps to lead roaches to their insurmountable fates with ease. These zombie cockroaches are miraculously compelled to follow wasps into their burrows where they become the home and eventual dinner to larval wasps. Wasps of the genus Glyptapantales similarly lay eggs inside the body of caterpillar hosts. These caterpillars are coerced into sacrificing their whole bodies to these adolescent wasps. Once hatched, the larval wasps feed on the insides of the caterpillar, making sure to steer clear of any vital organs so that the host doesn't die until they have taken everything it has to offer. These parasitoids are something straight out of a horror film!

Courtesy: Mother Nature Network

Luckily for us, these wasps are incapable of exhibiting the same effects on humans, but contrarily could actually lead to immensely beneficial ecological and medical breakthroughs! The mechanisms by which these wasps’ poisonous serums turn their victims into the living dead are complex and still quite vexing but also prospectively very informative. Wasps of the Glyptapantales genus display the potential to be a means of biological control in areas diminished by the invasive gypsy moth. As caterpillars, these gypsy moths feast on the leaves of deciduous trees and have the ability to completely deplete a tree’s foliage. Drastic defoliation can be detrimental to a tree and eventually negatively impact an entire ecosystem, so we are in need of a helping hand in warding off these invasive pests.

Advancements in disease research may also be on the line. From what we have found thus far, the emerald cockroach wasp contorts with its host’s dopamine levels, something that also happens to those battling Parkinson’s disease. By better understanding how the wasps’ venom takes over its host, we could also better understand the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease and potentially even reverse or silence some of its effects. New peptides have also been identified that could additionally better our understanding of Parkinson’s disease.

It’s easy to label these incredible critters as malicious predators due to their gruesome attack mechanisms. It’s also almost unfathomable to think of them as potentially beneficial; but in reality, they could direct us towards major breakthroughs that may tremendously benefit our society.