Zombie Cockroaches

Currently I am reading Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? by Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek.  I couldn’t help, but type in the two key words “Zombie” and “neuro” into the Pubmed search bar ultimately leading me to a paper that analyzes the Zombie-like traits of cockroaches victim to preying Jewel Wasps.  So here it is…

The parasitoid Jewel wasp actively seeks out cockroaches to use as food supplies for their offspring.  After locating a cockroach, the wasp stings its victim in the abdomen as well as the head, the first sting to paralyze the cockroach and the second to induce a hypnotic state.  The cockroach must be kept alive to feed the Wasp’s young for several days, explaining the wasp’s desire to control the cockroach’s behavior rather than kill it.  The neurotoxins from the Wasp’s sting specifically affect the supra-esophageal ganglion and sub-esophageal ganglion.  The esophageal ganglia in insects are responsible for moderating locomotion or walking.  Inhibition of these two sections of ganglia lead to the cockroach effectively losing motivation to walk, or move; in essence the cockroach loses its free will.  Initially though, the cockroach excessively grooms for thirty minutes before entering its hypokinetic trance.  Interestingly, no other behaviors are interfered with by the venom as the sting is specifically localized.  The cockroach is dragged back to the wasp’s nest or as the authors state, the cockroach moves “like a submissive dog on a leash” and is left their until the brood hatch and feed on the unprotesting cockroach (Gal and Lieberstat 1).

Below is a link to a Youtube clip showing the entire process from beginning to end.  Notice the difference in size between the cockroach and wasp.


Gal R, Libersat F (2010) A Wasp Manipulates Neuronal Activity in the Sub-Esophageal Ganglion to Decrease the Drive for Walking in Its Cockroach Prey. PLoS ONE 5(4): e10019. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010019

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