Your Daily Dose of Disturbing: The Dementor Wasp
Watch this video. WATCH. IT. If you're anything like me, it will leave you with your mouth hanging open, slightly unsettled, at one of nature's most incredible, disconcerting, skin-crawling species:
Straight out of a horror flick, the dementor wasp (named for the soul-sucking creatures in Harry Potter) was recently discovered in the Greater Mekong Region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam). As seen in the video, Ampulex dementor injects venom into a neural node of a cockroach's body, blocking receptors for the neurotransmitter octopamine. This doesn't kill the cockroach (although swift death would be a more merciful fate), but prevents it from making spontaneous movements, rendering it zombie-like. The dementor wasp then leads it, like a dog on a leash, to its burrow where it parks it and promptly injects it with its eggs. It gets worse: The cockroach is still alive and is slowly eaten by the larvae as they hatch and mature over the course of about eight days.
Undeniably incredible in its behavior, the dementor wasp has been received by a worldwide audient with rapture. Although discovered in 2014, however, it wasn't until this past May that much of the public became aware of its existence after Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling retweeted a photo of it, bringing the dementor wasp instant fame.
Here in-lies an interesting role of social media: drawing attention to global issues, a capability most are aware of but one that is not always applied to environmental protection. The Greater Mekong Region is a hub of biodiversity with countless species that are essential to maintaining a delicate balance of life. Additionally, it hosts a prosperous fishing industry, marking a distinct economic interest in ensuring that the environment remains healthy. While the initial reaction to the parasitic tendencies of A. dementor is one of horror, it is necessary to protect species such as this even with the bad rap that parasites receive. While largely unstudied, the wasp may prevent the cockroach population in the wasp's habitat of Thailand from multiplying out of control. An additional consideration in protecting A. dementor is that we as humans can learn from its effortless control of cockroaches' brains. Studying their strange behavior will hopefully shed light on how the nervous systems of insects work, and in turn allow scientists to further understand how to treat psychological disorders.
Hollywood does zombie horror well enough, but after witnessing the dementor wasp's merciless conquest, it's clear to see that Nature did it first, and best.
- "Say Hello to the Dementor Wasp. It Turns Cockroaches into Zombies."Washington Post. The Washington Post, 27 May 2015. Web. 22 July 2015.
- Simpson, Jack. "The Dementor Wasp: New Species of Insect That Can Turn Cockroaches into Zombies Named after Harry Potter Character." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 07 May 2014. Web. 22 July 2015.
- "A Parasitoid Wasp Manipulating the Brain of a Cockroach." YouTube. YouTube, 05 Feb. 2009. Web. 22 July 2015.