Parasitic Wasps

A few week’s ago while on a macro photo outing with a friend, we found a parasitic wasp on top of a caterpillar. At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on. It looked like the wasp was just sitting there while the caterpillar jerked wildly from time to time, aiming to remove this unwanted sitter from its back. I observed the two for a few minutes and eventually  saw that the wasp was laying eggs into the side of the caterpillar.  This would be a slow death for the caterpillar.

I’ve heard a little about parasitic wasps but this observation piqued my curiosity to learn more, so I headed to the library surfed the Internet to find out more.  What I’ve learned is this: it sucks to be enemies with a parasitic wasp.   Scroll down to read some of the highlights of my findings.

Parasitic wasp turns caterpillars into head-banging bodyguards

The vast majority of wasps are “parasitoids”, animals that practice the grisly art of body-snatching. They lay their eggs in the bodies of other living animals to provide their newly hatched grubs with a fresh supply of meat. Like HR Giger’s alien, the full-grown larvae then burst through their host’s skin, usually killing it in the process.

But the fate of one type of caterpillar Thyrinteina leucocerae doesn’t end there. It is targeted by a Glyptapanteles wasp that, on a single pass, can lay as many as 80 eggs onto the hapless host. Two weeks later, the larvae burst through their host’s skin. But despite its injuries, the caterpillar remains alive and stays near the hatched grubs as they spin their pupae and turn into adults. It never moves and it never feeds. All it does it violently swing its head in response to nearby movement. After the adult wasps fly off, it eventually dies.

Caterpillars Beware: Parasitic Wasps Come in a Wide Variety

Now, after completing a decades-long study with other researchers, James Whitfield of the University of Illinois says that there are almost twice as many species of these wasps as researchers had previously believed.

Biologists studying parasitic wasps had previously identified 171 provisional species—meaning they haven’t been given a scientific name yet. But Whitfield’s DNA analysis indicated 313 provisional species living in a biological reserve in Costa Rica called Area de Conservación Guanacaste. Some of these species look nearly identical, so much so that the scientists could only tell they were distinct from each other through analyzing their nucleotides in a procedure called “barcoding.”

Bugs Cuddle Up to Dead Comrades for Protection

Most humans—and animals—don’t cuddle up with corpses. Not aphids, though. The insects snuggle with fallen comrades as a way to evade parasitic wasps, a new study suggests.

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