You may have thought that George R.R. Martin was cruel to his characters. Think again. It seems nature can be even crueler – new research shows zombie slave spiders do wasps’ biding. And they don’t even know it. This is one instance in which the arachnid can get caught in the web it itself has spun.
If you’ve ever hated wasps – hey, we don’t blame you. They can be extremely mean, they sting the first chance they get, and they don’t even produce honey, like the little worker bees do. And they’re nasty not only for humans, but for other critters as well.
For instance, there’s one specific type of caterpillar which you could say has a pretty bad day when it’s visited by a variety of wasp. The latter injects the green crawler with as much as 80 eggs. These parasitic eggs hatch inside the organism, and turn into larvae for wasps. Once at that stage, they begin eating the caterpillar from the inside but leave it just alive enough so that it can protect them as they hatch. And you thought you were having a rough day.
But researchers from the Kobe University have uncovered something even stranger. They published their study in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The work details the complicated life of a Cyclosa argenteoalba spider. The species has two types of webs it can sew. One of them is – you guessed it – for catching prey, while the other is for resting while it changes its exoskeleton – something all exoskeletal need to do every once in a while.
Naturally, when it is not protected by its natural armor, the spider wants to avoid any kind of struggles with other creatures, so it produces a no-stick web and arranges it in a minimalistic way so no insect can get stuck in it.
But at one point in its life, the spider is visited by Reclinervellus nielseni, a specific type of wasp which relies on the spider to lay its eggs. It plants them on or in the spider, and then flies off. The eggs turn into a larva which subsequently feeds on the spider’s blood (or hemolymph). At the same type it injects the spider with a strange chemical which compels it to start building a web. The spider thinks it is molting while it is actually building the perfect cocoon for the larva.
But the strange part is that the spider is being controlled step by step, before ultimately being devoured from the inside out. The cocoon is perfect for the wasp, as it protects it from UV light by reflecting it. Incoming birds don’t see the insect larva there, since the reflection is really annoying, and they usually fly off.
Nature is scary.
Image source: livescience.com