There’s more to life than surviving nuclear holocaust

That idea that cockroaches are indestructible?

Nature has dealt them a special adversary to keep them humble: the emerald cockroach wasp, which poisons a roach’s brain in a particular spot to render it docile, then chews off half its antennae, then drags it to a cave and buries it with a wasp egg on its back which will turn into a larva which …

I can’t even say it. It’s too horrible.

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7 thoughts on “There’s more to life than surviving nuclear holocaust

  1. That was actually kind of cool, though horrible from our perspective…from the wasp’s perspective it’s all hunky-dory, and the cockroach doesn’t even seem to mind.

    What really strikes me about this tale is just how unlikely it seems that this reproductive strategy could evolve in some kind of Darwinian, step-wise, random mutation fashion. It stings a specific section of the ganglia; seems to me that the first wasp that ever tried this might have missed by a millimeter or so and the whole thing thus didn’t work and therefore, the wasp didn’t reproduce, thus the strategy wasn’t passed on in the genes so it had to evolve again through a new random mutation…or something like that. A caterpillar turning into a butterfly is a similar thing. Since most of your cells get broken down to mush the whole shebang has to go absolutely right the first time or you’re just dead. End of family line.

    Don’t know if you have any evolutionary biologists reading this fine blog but I would be very interested to hear how something with such a complex and precarious “critical path” could evolve. Longer beaks, yes, better sense of smell, yes, wasps that make zombie robot cockroaches…convince me.

  2. :) My sympathy for the roaches is faux. It is cool. But also gross.

    Agree that development of this reproductive strategy is fascinating. I got no answers there. I mean I can speculate about a large number of wasps living near a large number of cockroaches, and it’s a cool solution to the problem of “what food can I put down there w/ my larva that won’t spoil immediately” if that’s a concern for wasps. But the precision venom payload etc, just amazing. FWIW there are apparently a good number of species with this weird kind of specialization – follow links to hyperparasites etc on wikipedia.

  3. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but I’ll take a stab at this one.

    The thing to keep in mind with evolution is that organisms change. It’s not necessary that the wasp had to develop this method in one go. It may have had an alternate reproduction method, allowing for many failures with the roach experiment.

    With the current plentifulness of roaches, there is little need for the wasp to use another form of reproduction. The ability to use the older method could have atrophied due to lack of use.

    It’s even possible that the wasp does have another method that we have not observed yet.

    That having been said, it’s still pretty darn amazing this happens at all. Is the seeming improbability of this animal evidence of the hand of a Designer? Well, that’s for each person to decide.

  4. I don’t know about a Designer, necessarily, but it looks suspiciously teleological, which is the one thing many biologists would rather die than admit that there is some possibility of. GM Jim Plaskett has written a lot on the subject (obviously, since he’s a strong chess player he must be listened to on everything else :) )

  5. Wahrheit: There’s no “teleology” here. Either you’re an immoral heathen who wants to deny God because you want to be a mass murderer, or you’re a mindless simpleton who believes anything Bronze Age shepherds wrote 4,000 years ago.

    I know, because that’s how it is on the Internet.

    Derek: Thanks. You haven’t done one of your word posts in a while.

  6. Wow, way grim for the host roach but fascinatingly cool and clever for the parasite… How do they figure out the “order” in which to consume the internal organs? Wow…

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