Causes of zombification

New Ecuadorian wasp capable of creating zombies

By Dakota Cantwell

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The Zatypota wasp turns spiders into helpless zombies. Photo by Philippe Fernandez-Fournier

A new species of wasp has been discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon that is capable of making zombies out of spiders.

The wasp takes control of the spider’s brain and forces it to guard the the wasp’s larva and then wait to be eaten by the larva according to a study published in Ecological Entomology.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia documented the relationship between the undescribed wasp in the Zatypota genus and the social spiders of the Anelosimus eximius. A wasp from this genus was previously observed changing the behavior solitary spiders, but this is the first time it has been documented messing with the social spider.

The wasp lays an egg in the abdomen of the spider and when the egg hatches it attaches to the spider to feed off the spider’s hemolymph (blood).

The behavior altering process includes the spider leaving its colony and building a cocoon to protect the larva as it waits to be eaten.

Within nine to 11 days the larva emerges as a fully formed wasp ready to restart the process with a new spider.

While this process of laying eggs in a host is not new, scientists find this new species of wasp to be unique.

“This behaviour modification is so hardcore,” coauthor Samantha Straus said in a UBC news release. “The wasp completely hijacks the spider’s behaviour 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.”

Researchers theorize that the wasps use hormones injected into the spider to ‘zombify’ it. They also believe that the wasps target these spiders because the social aspect of them provides a large, stable food source.

 

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