Wasps are some of the most interesting (and scariest) creatures on earth. Sure, their sting can be painful, but some species of wasps are known to inject their eggs into living creatures and use them as hosts. Ring any bells? If you get grossed out by the Alien movie series, these wasps are probably your worst nightmare.
What is a Parasitoid Wasp?
This group of wasps is known as “parasitoid wasps,” and they can be found pretty much anywhere. One video shows the incredible process of one species of wasp, Cotesia golmerata, using an unsuspecting caterpillar as its personal nursery. Cotesia golmerata is a type of solitary wasp, meaning it doesn’t live within a hive. Solitary wasps hunt on their own and only interact with other wasps when they mate.
Cotesia golmerata has the ability to smell the mixture of caterpillar saliva and leaf juice. When a female is carrying eggs and get’s a whiff, it’s officially go time! Once a caterpillar has been found, the fight is still far from being over. The caterpillars are much larger and stronger than the small wasp, but Cotesia golmerata isn’t going down without a try. Despite being thrown off by the caterpillar multiple times, the wasp tries over and over again to overpower the larger insect.
Finally, Cotesia golmerata has a moment to lay the eggs. Within a few seconds, the wasp mother is able to lay eggs inside the caterpillar while it chews on her wings. Although she is taking a beating, her drive to reproduce makes the injuries worth it. Without much outward change, she finally does it. The caterpillar has been injected with her eggs.
Limping away, the mother wasp is clearly injured but has accomplished her ultimate goal. The caterpillar seems to be unaffected, but something quite devious is occluding under the skin of the caterpillar.
Weeks later, the caterpillar has become a living buffet for baby wasps. Hatching from the eggs, they have begun to slowly feed on the unaware caterpillar’s non-essential tissues and organs. The goal is to feed, not kill the caterpillar. At least not yet.
When it’s time to escape, the baby wasps begin releasing a chemical to paralyze the caterpillar. Then, they slowly begin eating the skin of the helpless caterpillar with sharp, specially adapted teeth. In a scene that looks like it’s from a horror film, nearly 50 caterpillars begin wriggling their way out of the tiny chewed holes.
Then, once they are out, they begin spinning cocoons in order to finish the next stage of their growth. As they spin their cocoons, the still-living caterpillar begins to finish the cocoons for the wasps in a maternal instinct that only exists in this strange parasitic relationship. Incredibly, the caterpillar will then defend the wasps day and night until it slowly starves to death.
Once the caterpillar has finally died, the new wasps break loose from the cocoons as fully-grown adults. Time to head out and look for another caterpillar to repeat the cycle!
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