The zombie apocalypse is here, and it all started with this wasp. Meet the dementor wasp, a newly described species from Thailand that is capable of turning its victims into soulless zombies with a single bite, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Lucky for us, it only hunts cockroaches.
The wasp, officially called Ampulex dementor, was named after the fictional characters called dementors from the Harry Potter franchise. In the books, a dementor can suck its prey's soul, leaving an empty body with neither thoughts nor emotions, and that's a pretty good description of what dementor wasps are capable of doing to cockroaches.
When one of these wasps stings a cockroach, a toxin is injected that targets the victim's neural nodes. This blocks the cockroach's octopamine receptors, effectively rendering the bug incapable of directing its own movements. Strangely, though, the cockroach's muscle functions still work. Once the toxin takes full effect, the cockroach body tends to run straight into the wasp's trap, making it easy prey. The wasp then consumes the soulless cockroach alive.
"Cockroach wasp venom blocks receptors of the neurotransmitter octopamine, which is involved in the initiation of spontaneous movement," explains the report. "With this blocked, the cockroach is still capable of movement, but is unable to direct its own body. Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it."
The wasp got its name after visitors at The Museum für Naturkunde, a natural history museum in Berlin, voted on it. Other choices for the name included Ampulex bicolor — which references the species' coloration, Ampulex mon — a shout-out to the region in Thailand where the wasp was discovered, and Ampulex plagiator — which alludes to the fact that the species is also known to be an ant mimic, a "copier" of ant behavior.
Related on MNN: