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The Amazon rainforest is home to many frightening creatures, like giant Anacondas, flesh-eating piranhas, just to name a couple, and now you can add a new one to the list, a species of wasp that lays its eggs on the abdomen of spiders and then hijacks their brain, essentially turning them into zombies.
The previously unknown wasp of the Zatypota genus was discovered by researchers with the University of British Columbia (UBC) working in the Ecuadorian Amazon basin. They documented its symbiotic relationship with a species of so called “social spiders” and recently published some truly terrifying findings in the Ecological Entomology scientific journal. This newly discovered wasp is apparently able to hijack the nervous system of its host, forcing it to leave its colony, which it otherwise rarely does, protect the wasps larva and ultimately get eaten alive. It essentially turns the social spider into a zombie-like drone that then does the wasp’s bidding.
“Wasps manipulating the behavior of spiders has been observed before, but not at a level as complex as this,” said Philippe Fernandez-Fournier, lead author of the study. “Not only is this wasp targeting a social species of spider but it’s making it leave its colony, which it rarely does.”
Photo: Oddity central/ “Spider Host” Study
That’s really what makes this new species of wasp different from other members of the Zatypota genus, and most other parasitoid insects – its ability to completely alter the behavior of social spiders. The influencing and commanding of solitary spiders by Zatypota wasps has been documented before, but this is the first time the same time of behavior has been observed in the the highly social Anelosimus eximius spider.
Fernandez-Fournier and his team were in Ecuador to study the parasites living in the nests of Anelosimus eximius spider, one of only 25 known species of social spiders worldwide. They are known for living in large colonies from which single individuals rarely stray, working together on catching prey and even sharing parental duties. So when scientists noticed some spiders moving a few feet away from their colonies and weaving “cocoon webs”, they knew something was wrong.
“It was very odd because they don’t normally do that, so I started taking notes,” Philippe Fernandez-Fournier told UBC News. So he and his colleagues took some of these weird cocoons back to their laboratory to see what would emerge from them. To everyone’s surprise, it was a wasp.
Gathering data from various research projects conducted in Ecuador between 2012 and 2017, the UBC researchers were able to piece together the entire life cycle of this elegant and gracious wasp and its frightening parasitic relationship to the tiny Anelosimus eximius spider.