It’s a bizarre duel that might have you struggling to pick a side – an American cockroach squaring off with an emerald jewel wasp.
But for the roach, the stakes are extremely high.
Emerald jewel wasps are known to deliver a paralyzing sting straight to the brain that essentially turns roaches into zombies, forcing them to carry the wasps’ eggs before they’re eventually devoured by the larvae.
Roaches, however, have developed an impressive technique to fight off their attackers; jaw-dropping new footage shows how the insects use a powerful back-kick to deter these wasps with one swift blow.
‘The cockroach has a suite of behaviors that it can deploy to fend off the zombie-makers, and this starts out with what I call the “en garde” position, like in fencing,’ said Vanderbilt University biologist Ken Catania.
‘That allows the roach to move its antenna toward the wasp so it can track an approaching attack and aim kicks at the head and body of the wasp, and that’s one of the most efficient deterrents.
‘It’s reminiscent of what a movie character would do when a zombie is coming after them.’
Researchers at Vanderbilt University caught the incredible interactions on film using ultra-slow-speed videography.
While the roach defense tactics have been described in the past, this is the first time it’s been studied closely to determine its effectiveness.
Their findings are detailed in a new paper titled How Not to Be Turned into a Zombie, in the journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution.
In the experiments pitting cockroach against wasp, the researchers found that the would-be prey insects use their spiny back legs to kick the wasps out of the way before they get a chance to deliver a zombifying sting.
This technique worked for 63 percent of adult roaches. But, younger insects weren’t so lucky.
Juvenile roaches almost always failed at defending themselves, resulting in a sting to the brain.
And according to the researchers, the wasps seem to be aware of this vulnerability, too.
‘The wasp usually figures out there’s a smaller and less defensive cockroach out there to be had,’ Catania notes.
The findings challenge the idea that cockroaches are simply defenseless prey against these parasitic wasps.
For the unfortunate ones that do get caught by the wasps, though, the fate is grim.
After capturing a victim, the wasps chew off half of the roach’s antennae and lead the zombified-creature to the burrow where they’ve laid their eggs.
Then, the wasps use the roach as a ‘placid egg carrier’ for their offspring – which eventually hatch to eat the ill-fated insect alive.