It seems like the storyline of this planet’s tiniest horror film: deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, a recently discovered species of wasp transforms a”societal” spider to some zombie-like drone which abandons its own colony to perform exactly the wasp’s bidding.
That is the gruesome, real life discovery by University of British Columbia investigators, that detail the very first case of a hierarchical relationship involving a brand new Zatypota species wasp and a societal Anelosimus eximius spider at a study published recently in Ecological Entomology.
“Wasps manipulating the behavior of spiders was detected before, but not in a level as complicated as this,” explained Philippe Fernandez-Fournier, lead author of the research and former master’s student at UBC’s department of zoology. “Not only is that this wasp targeting a species of spider but it’s making it depart its own colony, which it seldom does.”
Fernandez-Fournier was in Ecuador researching different sorts of parasites which reside in the nests of Anelosimus eximius spiders, among only about 25 species of “societal” spiders globally. They’re noteworthy for living together in massive colonies, working on prey capture, sharing civic duties and seldom straying in their basket-shaped nests.
After Fernandez-Fournier noticed that a number of the lions were infected with a parasitic larva and seen them drifting a foot or two away in their colonies to twist enclosed webs of densely spun silk and pieces of foliage, he was puzzled. “It was quite strange since they do not normally do this, so I started taking notes,” he explained.
Intrigued, he took some of the structures, called “cocoon webs” back into the lab to find out what could emerge from the depths. To his surprise, it was a wasp.
“All these wasps are extremely elegant looking and stylish,” said Samantha Straus, co-author of this analysis and Ph.D. student in UBC’s department of zoology. “But they do the most barbarous thing.”
Using information gathered from Ecuador for distinct endeavors between 2012 and 2017, the investigators started to piece together the entire lifespan of the wasp and its parasitic relationship to the spider.
What they discovered was equal parts fascinating and horrific: following an adult female wasp lays an egg to the stomach of a spider, then the larva hatches and attaches to its hapless arachnid host. It then presumably feeds the spider’s blood-like haemolymph, developing bigger and gradually taking over its entire body. The currently”zombified” spider leaves the colony and then spins a cocoon for its larva before waiting to be killed and swallowed. After feasting on the spider, the larva enters its secure cocoon, appearing fully formed nine to eleven days afterwards.
In other similar cases of parasitism, wasps are known to goal solitary species of lions such as orb weavers and manipulate them in to behaviors which are in their usual repertoire.
“However, this behavior modification is indeed hardcore,” said Straus. “The wasp completely hijacks the snake’s behavior and mind and makes it do something it would not do, such as render its nest and turning an entirely different structure. That is very dangerous for all these very small spiders”
It is not understood how the wasps do so, but scientists think it can be brought on by an injection of hormones which produce the spider think that it’s in another life-stage or make it to distribute from the colony.
“We believe that the wasps are targeting those societal spiders since it gives a large, secure host colony and food supply,” said Straus. “We also discovered that the bigger the spider colony, the more probable it was that these wasps would aim it.”
Straus, who sports a tattoo of this wasp, will go back to Ecuador to research whether the wasps return to exactly the identical spider colonies production after production and what evolutionary benefit which may present.
Meanwhile, the wasps will probably continue their play role in the Lions’ worst offenses.