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Scientists discover new parasitic wasp that creates spider zombies


University of British Columbia Science

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, recently discovered is turning a regularly social spider into a lone, lumbering zombie.

The species of spider, Anelosimus eximius, create elaborate bucket-like webs with thousands of its family members. It's deemed a "social spider" because it cooperates with other spiders of home communication in sharing hunting, parenting and feeding duties.

That is, until a Zatypota the parasitoid was lays an egg on its abdomen.

Once the Wasp's deposited egg hatches, emerges a larvae, attaches itself to the spiders and feeds on it, sucking on the blood-like haemolymph to survive. At this point, the Spider's behavior changes and it becomes enslaved by the larva, moving away from its communal nest to create a cocoon-shaped web of its own.

The larva feeds on the spider until it dies, in its relative safety, the host is just like the beautiful and eventually, emerging as a beautiful, regal wasp.


Philippe Fernandez-Fournier noticed the strange spider behavior and started to investigate. Anelosimus eximius don't abandon their nests, but when he saw one was crawling to make entirely new web, he was intrigued.

His research, published in Ecological Entomology, suggests that the larva of Zatypota to be able to build these unusual webs – and it may be the most advanced behavioral manipulation ever seen.

Fernandez-Fournier and his research team suspect that the changes in spider behavior are "mapping into some ancestral dispersal programs" … which sounds awful lot like brain control. Either that or not causes the spiders to starve, which forces them to find food at the periphery of the nest. Once they get out, they begin spinning webs unlike those they normally inhabit.

In the animal kingdom, the most impressive capability is not a new thing. Other spider species, such as the Orb Weaver, also become unwilling hosts for Wasps and there are species of wasps that do this to cockroaches, too. However, the newly discovered situation appears to be a web-building and social behavior of this particular species of spider much more intense than has been seen before.

How can the wasp larva do this? The answer to that question is not as easy as it can be, but it has a tendency to build "reduced webs during moulting". Other species of parasites were stinging their hosts' brains with a chemical cocktail.

The researchers also discovered that spider colony plays a role in the role of zombie treatment, with larger colonies seeing a higher number of parasitized spiders. That may seem like a obvious connection to make, but it is important to establish the dynamic between parasite and host, and it can enable us to improve our understanding of relationships and relationships.


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