News reports of yet another “zombie” type creature are making headlines. Just where does all this “zombie” mania end, one has to ask. Well, it looks like not anytime soon, unfortunately.
No, this is not the newest horror movie coming soon to a theater near you. This is a real, albeit terrifying, story of the orb spider and its strange, but deadly, relationship with the parasitic wasp. The entire tale plays out in Hyogo prefecture, in Japan.
Nature has its own unique way of working everything out to fulfill a purpose, and this relationship is no different. These two species illustrate a perfect example of pure and straightforward host manipulation—a process in which one species (the actual parasite in the relationship) and its young (the parasites offspring, or parasitoids) manipulate and control another species (the host in the relationship) to their end advantage.
Essentially, and in layman’s terms, the wasp is nothing more than a body snatcher. At this time, researchers have not been able to pinpoint the exact manner in which the parasite can take over its host, causing them to behave in a zombielike manner, and do its parasites every bidding.
This is also true of the case of the orb-weaving spider and its parasitic wasp of Japan. Researchers want to find out just how the control is gained—is it a neurotoxin? A hormone?
Just how does this manipulation even begin you may ask. It is achieved when the female wasp attacks the orb spider while in its own web. The female wasp will proceed to deposit her eggs on the back of the orb weaver’s abdomen, but will not kill it. The egg will then turn into a larva, which will use the spider to do it’s every bidding—essentially a slave—until eventually, the larva will kill the spider.
Although it still may sound like the storyline to the latest science fiction movie, in actuality it is just one of another strange and baffling mysteries of nature.