Pretty, isn’t it? The brilliant colors dazzle the eye. I took this picture in 2010 and wasn’t able to identify this insect — until very recently. Not only have I now identified it, I’ve come to know a lot more about it than I perhaps care to know. For this living jewel is the Jeffrey Dahmer of the insect world. Its beautiful exterior conceals a loathsome secret that would wake you up screaming in blind terror if you saw it enacted in a nightmare.
The insect in the picture is the jewel wasp or the emerald cockroach wasp (Ampulex compressa), and its prey is one of the hardiest life forms to have ever emerged on earth: the cockroach. When the wasp finds a cockroach (which, by the way, is much bigger than the wasp), it injects it with a venom. This first shot conveys a mild dose, immobilizing the cockroach for the few minutes the wasp needs to inject a second dose of venom. This second sting requires some time because it needs to have the accuracy of a laser-guided missile. The site of venom delivery, the subesophageal ganglion, has to be precisely located.
This second sting in the brain turns the cockroach into a zombie — literally. To all appearances, it’s a normal cockroach, but it’s will has been fatally compromised by the wasp’s venom. It’s escape reflex has been chemically amputated with surgical precision.It no longer desires to flee or lead an autonomous existence, to infest a warm human house, mate with a handsome/beautiful cockroach and sire young nymphs that will mature into sturdy world conquerors.
The wasp now grabs the cockroach’s antennae and leads it to its nest like a dog on a leash. Amazing, isn’t it? And once the cockroach is in the wasp’s nest, the wasp lays an egg on the cockroach, which can move around but shows no desire to flee. After the egg hatches, the larva begins to eat the cockroach alive.
And still the cockroach submits passively to its fate, showing not the slightest interest in escaping from its tomb, though it is physically normal in every way. It has been transformed into a slave, passively acquiescing to being eaten up alive, slowly, slowly, slowly, by a squirming larva that probably cannot even see what it is eating, because it has no eyes. Now, did that give you the creeps? It did?? Oh, it completely freaked you out and you’re now retching in the ash tray??! Good, good. Mission accomplished. 🙂
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