Wasps Create 'Zombie' Spiders to Do Their Bidding, Say Scientists

By Dussault, Joseph | The Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 2015 | Go to article overview

Wasps Create 'Zombie' Spiders to Do Their Bidding, Say Scientists


Dussault, Joseph, The Christian Science Monitor


Let's face it, parenting is hard work.

Maybe that's why ichneumon wasps force spiders to house and feed their kids for them.

Through new research, scientists seek to understand the insidious mind control employed by Reclinervellus nielseni, a species of ichneumon wasp native to Japan. The larvae of R. nielseni latch onto orb-weaving spiders, forcing their hosts to spin special webs. When the web is finished, the zombified spiders wait patiently to be consumed by their wasp masters.

According to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, these wasps may only be enhancing the normal behavior of their hosts, not changing it outright.

Orb-weaving spiders can build two kinds of nests: complex webs designed to catch prey, and an interim "resting" webs that are weaved just before molting. Lead author Keizo Takasuka, a behavioral ecologist at Japan's Kobe University, noticed that the webs built by zombie spiders looked an awful lot like their resting webs. But were the similarities a result of careful planning, or mere coincidence?

To find out, Dr. Takasuka and colleagues studied the web- building practices of both healthy and parasitized spiders. High- definition imaging showed no discernible difference between normal and zombie nests. …

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