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Supplementary Material for: How Not to Be Turned into a Zombie

posted on 2018-10-31, 06:48 authored by Catania K.C.
The emerald jewel wasp (Ampulex compressa) is renowned for its ability to zombify the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) with a sting to the brain. When the venom takes effect, the cockroach becomes passive and can be led by its antenna into a hole, where the wasp deposits an egg and then seals the exit with debris. The cockroach has the ability to walk, run, or fly if properly stimulated, but it does not try to escape as it is slowly eaten alive by the developing wasp larva. Although the composition and effects of the wasp’s venom have been investigated, no studies have detailed how cockroaches might prevent this grim fate. Here it is shown that many cockroaches deter wasps with a vigorous defense. Successful cockroaches elevated their bodies, bringing their neck out of reach, and kicked at the wasp with their spiny hind legs, often striking the wasp’s head multiple times. Failing this, the elevated, “on-guard” position allowed cockroaches to detect and evade the wasp’s lunging attack. If grasped, the cockroaches parried the stinger with their legs, used a “stiff-arm” defense to hold back the stinger, and could stab at, and dislodge, the wasp with tibial spines. Lastly, cockroaches bit at the abdomen of wasps delivering the brain sting. An aggressive defense from the outset was most successful. Thus, for a cockroach not to become a zombie, the best strategy is: be vigilant, protect your throat, and strike repeatedly at the head of the attacker.


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    Brain, Behavior and Evolution




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