Published: Fri, January 27, 2017
Research | By Francis Brooks

Ghastly, grisly, ghoulish "crypt keeper" wasp found on United States soil


If there were a horror movie set in the animal kingdom, a turquoise-green insect named the "crypt-keeper wasp" would likely play a starring role. Because that's literally what it does to another kind of wasp.

Living up to its mythological namesake's disgusting behaviour, Euderus set lays its eggs inside the gall wasp, effectively turning it into a zombie to do its own bidding. After these eggs hatch, the crypt-keeper larva carves into the other species of wasps and takes control over its mind.

Instead of exiting the hole they make, the wasps would plug the holes with their head and die, researchers found.

Rice researchers nicknamed it the "crypt-keeper" wasp and said it's a rare example of hypermanipulation, in which a parasite is manipulated by another parasite. Beyond that, the crypt-keeper wasps are just one of the few hypermanipulators, which are parasites that manipulate the behavior of parasites that are manipulative themselves.

The insidious insect was named Euderus set, or E. set, after Set, "the Egyptian god of evil and chaos who trapped his brother Osiris in a crypt, killed him and then cut him into little pieces", researchers explain. The crypt-keeper then devours its internal organs, slips through its body and emerges through its head case. It describes in detail the new species of wasp. "They need the hosts to do that work for them, so they can get out".

"It could be the parasitoid cues hosts to excavate early, but makes them do it less well than usual". To see how well the crypt-keeper can tunnel on its own, the team taped thin strips of bark over dead gall wasp heads and waited.

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"This is the type of science I love; it leaves us hungrily asking more questions", David Hughes from Pennsylvania State University, who studies manipulative parasites, told The Atlantic. "So numerous stories that have been uncovered are just as cool as the coolest science fiction movie".

Unperturbed reproduction of the gall wasp. Golf Coast, including sites in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. And because E. set belongs to family of close to 600 species across North America, many of which serve as biocontrol agents for agricultural pests, the team would also like to learn if these manipulations are more widespread.

Normally, the gall wasp goes about its own parasitic behavior in peace.

This wasp known as galls represent some tree cysts being developed with the help of the host wasp's young.

"Scott was going through some of those museum samples and saw this phenomenon in those branches", she said.

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