Karate-kicking cockroaches can fight off zombifying jewel wasps

A wasp climbs atop a cockroach against a white background.

Enlarge / Jewel wasps adopt
a fencer’s pose (limbs up and away from the prey) to deliver a
venomous sting. (credit: Ken Catania/Vanderbilt
University
)

If you ever want to witness just how horrifyingly “red in tooth
and claw” nature can be, you only have to look to the emerald jewel
wasp. The female of the species is known for stinging unsuspecting
cockroaches with a nasty venom that turns the roach into her docile
slave. That way she can lay her eggs in the still-living roach and
bury it alive, ensuring her offspring have something to eat when
they hatch. Even if you don’t like cockroaches, it’s a pretty
gruesome fate—they become the walking dead.

But it turns out that the poor roach is not without defenses of
its own, according to a new paper in
Brain, Behavior and Evolution with the rather puckish title, “How
Not To Be Turned Into a Zombie.” Roaches can use their hard, spiky
legs as weapons, even delivering wide sweeping kicks to ward off an
attacking jewel wasp. It’s the most detailed study
yet of how roaches fight off attacks to turn them into insectoid
zombies.

The author, Vanderbilt University’s Ken Catania, has a
knack for creatively studying the aggressive behavior of various
creatures; his specialty is predator/prey interactions. Back in
2016, he
experimentally verified
 naturalist and explorer Alexander von
Humboldt’s 19th-century account of electric eels in
Venezuela aggressively leaping up and stunning horses with a
series of high-voltage discharges. (Part of that experiment
involved LED lights mounted on a fake alligator head, attached with
strips of conductive tape, to better visualize those discharges.
Because of course it did.)

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Karate-kicking cockroaches can fight off zombifying jewel wasps