A Wasp's Weapon
The animal kingdom has created sophisticated predators that are capable of injecting venom into their prey. Most would eat their meal after the organisms perishes, but the Ampulex Compressa goes the extra mile to utilize their prey. More commonly known as the jewel wasp, they possess a drive to plant their eggs into their victims, and mind control them into following the wasp’s biding. Cockroaches serve as their primary food of choice and any one of them unlucky enough to encounter a jewel wasp should prepare for a painful zombification.
In the Scientific American, comes a study conducted on the behavior of jewel wasps and how they indoctrinate their food. Jewel wasps possess unique adaptations that allow them to maneuver past the ganglionic sheath (equivalent to human’s blood brain barrier) through mechanical and chemical reactions that tell the hosts to inject the venom into a precise spot in the ganglia. After the wasps inject their venom, the victim is left alone for 30 minutes for the neurotoxin to wreak havoc. Dopamine is flooded through the victim’s brain and begins to groom itself, preparing the hosts for the injection of the eggs. After the 30 minutes, the victim is rendered completely submissive and possesses no will to resist their demise.
The victim’s motor abilities are completely intact, but any sense of free will is lost to the point where it must be led by the wasp to move its ligaments. The neurotoxin targets GABA-gated chloride channels which allow action potentials to shoot off in the nervous system. As the sodium channels start to open, the venom causes the chloride channels to open as well. The influx of both positively charged ions of sodium and negatively charged chloride cause a stagnation of charge stopping the action potential in its tracks. It can be overcome with a large influx of stimuli, but rest assured the neurotoxin has two other compounds. B-Alanine and taurine act as an insurance for the GABA if it is overcome by the neurons. When the venom finishes its job, the victim is lead to its burial ground where it will have an egg hatch inside of it to eat it from the inside out. The venom slows down the metabolic process of the prey, so the young can have a fresh meal, ouch.
The jewel wasps prove to be one of natures finest predators with a neurotoxin disturbingly enough to fuel our nightmares. The complexity behind the mind control comes down to a mother’s intent on getting their young to survive in a cruel world, but at the expense of a poor bypassing pest. There is no question to the success of these variant of wasps, their resilience to insure survival is fascinating.
Posted by "Chorryi Chin" (1)
That's so cool! I took neurobiology last semester, and it's cool to see things like GABA-gated chloride channels in action. What's special about the cockroaches? Would the wasps have a lesser reproductive rate without them? Is there something about the cockroaches specifically that helps the wasps have better reproductive success?ReplyDelete
Posted by "Chandler Kupris"
There is nothing special about the cockroaches except that they are around 5 to 6 times the mass of the average jewel wasp. The nutrients and meat they provide for the female and her eggs are enough to keep both of them well nourished. Jewel wasp's only mate once in their lifetime with a dozen eggs, so finding the proper prey would ideally lead to a cockroach that is worth its time. If cockroaches were eliminated from their diets, it would mean a lesser reproductive rate. Many of their fellow Ampulex members prey on other bugs and insects such as caterpillars, spiders, and ants. With that information I could see an adaptation arising due to natural selection of those who choose to prey on organisms other than cockroaches.Delete
Posted by "Chorryi Chin"
This is so interesting! So the wasps prey on the cockroaches in order to lay an egg inside of them.. what are the benefits of doing so? What other insects do they prey on other than cockroaches? Do they mainly prey on cockroaches because of their size or do some other factors come into play?ReplyDelete
Posted by: Katarzyna Mosio
The benefits of laying jewel wasps laying their eggs inside the cockroaches ensures the survival and proper nourishment of their young. It has not been observed in nature but other variants of wasps have been known to eat spiders, caterpillars, and ants so it would not be a stretch if they were to target them as well. The adaptation with the precise placement of the neurotoxins would not be as responsive on other prey than the cockroach but I would not be surprised if the neurotoxin itself had the same effects on others. The cockroach in comparison to the jewel wasp is much larger, so the yield for a successful kill is more rewarding than any other pests.Delete
Posted by "Chorryi Chin"
This is absolutely fascinating! I recently read an article that, interestingly, told a very similar story. The tarantula hawk wasp (Hymenoptera Pepsini) also performs this identical behavior. However, instead of laying their eggs inside of cockroaches, they opt for tarantulas! It makes me wonder why some insects might make better hosts for certain predatory species? Also, is this an adaptation that has exclusively been observed in wasps, or do other insects exhibit similar behaviors?ReplyDelete
Posted by "Hayley Fecko"
This is the first time i hear about this survival mechanism and reproduction! Thanks for sharing that. The venom that the jewel wasps used targets GABA receptors which are found also in humans, do you know if this insect can bite humans? Can this venom have an effect on the human nervous system or not? I think it's a big question that depends on the amount of venom injected, if the insect needle can penetrate the human skin and what is the protein structure of the venom and its effect on neuro-receptors in humans.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing
Posted by "Jad Imad"
This article reminds me of a very similar case. One kind of parasitic worm, Leucochloridium, can invade snails' eyes and mind control snails. The worm can "conduct" the snail to climb on a tip of a leaf, where predators like birds can easily find the snail. The worm will wriggle rapidly to attract birds to eat it. After being eaten by a bird, the worm breeds in bird's guts, and its eggs will be released with bird's feces, waiting for another snail to eat it.ReplyDelete
Posted by "Muchen Liu"
I find it very interesting how the Jewel Wasp's neurotoxin works at a smaller scale. The neurotoxin being able to open the Chloride channel when the sodium channel opens is impressive and fascinating. Are there any other types of toxins that similar wasps or even other insects have that could provide a similar effect to closing or opening channels to disrupt the pray's action potential? I know of a scorpion that has the ability to and there is even a certain type of mouse that is able to resist this kind of affect due to their own channels.ReplyDelete
Posted by "Edwin Montecinos"
One thing that I think is really cool about this mechanism is the fact that it uses dopamine (a neurotransmitter commonly used in reward-motivated behavior) as something toxic rather than pleasurable. We normally associate dopamine as something that gives us a feeling of elation but here, it is used to produce a feeling of elation as related to being under the control of another species. The reward here is death, not a pleasurable act at all.ReplyDelete
-posted by Lauren HillerDelete
This behavior is also seen in some fungi. When the spores of Cordyceps unilateralis, a fungus is inhaled by Carpenter ants, the fungi uses the ants nutrients to sprout mycelia into the ants brain to control it. Then, the fungi leads the ant to a specific part of a leaf with the perfect moisture and other conditions and letting the ant die there. Then, the fungi grows using the ants nutrients at a spot with perect conditions for its growth.ReplyDelete
Posted by Veshal Venkat