Garden Detective

Jessica Damiano's award-winning garden blog gets to the root of things.

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Zombie cockroaches inhabited by ants?

Ampulex compressa, also known as the emerald cockroach

Ampulex compressa, also known as the emerald cockroach wasp and the jewel wasp -- take your pick, arranges for its larvae to take up residence inide the body of its still-alive, zombie-wasp hostage. (Credit: Youtube.com)

Because you're all gardeners, something tells me not only do you notice insects when you're digging in the dirt, but you might even be fascinated by them. It doesn't matter how many times I see an ant carry a crumb away, it just never gets old. But I just came upon a whole new level of entomological discovery that stopped me in my tracks.

I'm familiar with the inner workings of the aphid's piercing-sucking mouthparts and how it ravages plants, sucking the life force out of them. Too, I've been amused by the whole aphid-honeydew-sooty mold-ant cycle: Aphid sucks plant juice, aphid excretes honeydew,  honeydew grows sooty mold, sooty mold attracts ants. It's gross, but pretty cool, you have to admit. And, yes, those stories your big brother taunted you with about houseflies vomiting on your food when they land on it are true, sort of. So you'd think I'd be ready for anything.

But National Geographic's Carl Zimmer's account of the life cycle of  Ampulex compressa, the beautiful iridescent emerald jewel wasp, has thrown me for a loop "My favorite parasite just got cooler. A wasp turns cockroach into zombie and lays eggs in it. They hatch and disinfect the inside of the cockroach with antibiotics they make in their mouths. Don't believe me? I've got the video from inside the cockroach."

And I do love zombies.

Viewer discretion advised

It's not for the squeamish, to be sure, but this is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, and something tells me that because you spend long summer days — by choice — surrounded by earthworms, pill bugs, squash borers, slugs and tomato hornworms, this will be right up your alley.

Again, might wanna get the kiddies out of the room:

You can read the blow-by-blow details about the whole gory process here.

Tags: insects

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