Insect neurosurgeons

Carl Zimmer has a new post up on zombie cockroaches and the wasps that love them. This is seriously incredible stuff.

The wasp slips her stinger through the roach’s exoskeleton and directly into the cockroach’s brain. She apparently using sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach’s brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach’s antennae and leads it–in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex–like a dog on a leash.

Absolutely frickin’ amazing.

7 Replies to “Insect neurosurgeons”

  1. Carl said, “We would do well to follow its lead, and gain the wisdom of parasites”.

    I believe women of our species already have – and it’s a story that sounds familiarly like my own marriage. Fortunately, they were unable to evolve to implant their babies in us, but lead us off to dungeons like zombies, they did.

  2. I saw Libersat talk about this in 1999 at the Gordon Conference for Neuroethology in Oxford. He showed a movie of the whole interaction – it is even more amazing when you watch it than when you just think and try to imagine it.

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