A newly discovered species of wasp turns its prey into zombies using its venomous sting.
The Ampulex Dementor was found in the Mekong Delta in 2014, one of 139 new species discovered in the area according to a World Wildlife Fund report. It takes its name from the soul-sucking villains of the Harry Potter books.
Dementor wasp’s venom turns cockroaches into zombies
Dementor wasps were discovered in Thailand, and scientists observed a truly remarkable behavior. As it attacks the cockroach, the new species of wasp injects venom into a set of neurons on its prey’s stomach, which effectively makes the roach become a passive zombie.
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“Cockroach wasp venom blocks receptors of the neurotransmitter octopamine, which is involved in the initiation of spontaneous movement. With this blocked, the cockroach is still capable of movement, but is unable to direct its own body,” the paper explained.
Things then go from bad to worse for the prey. “Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it,” the report continued.
Conservation issues on the agenda
The naming of the newly discovered species was left up to visitors to the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, who voted for it to be called Ampulex Dementor in a poll. Visitors were struck by its similarity to the fictional dementors which hunt Harry Potter and his companions.
By giving the public the opportunity to name the new species, scientists are able to raise awareness of conservation issues. “I am convinced that events like this increase people’s curiosity about local and global fauna and nature,” said Michael Ohl, one of the Museum für Naturkunde researchers who oversaw the naming process.
Earlier this month a team of scientists named the 10 strangest species to be discovered in 2014, another attempt to raise awareness of conservation issues and the loss of biodiversity.
The report also names other new species such as Phryganistria Heusii Yentuensis. The insect, which can grow to 21 inches in length, becomes the world’s second longest after being discovered in Vietnam. A color-changing thorny frog called Gracixalus Lumarius was also discovered in the country.
Of the 139 species discovered, 90 were plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, 9 fish and 1 mammal.