This new cunning species of insect was recently discovered by a group of scientists from Rice University in Houston Texas. Aptly named after Set, the Egyptian god of evil and chaos, Euderus set is a turquoise-tinted wasp whose exploitative nature belies its tiny size.
Endemic to South Eastern United States, the Crypt-keeper’s tale is a gruesome and graphic one. The way it goes about its business is basically by preying on its primary victim, another parasite called the gall wasp. The gall wasp puncture holes in tree barks to lay their eggs and wait to mature, after which they normally chew and tunnel their way out of the tree to freedom.
This is where the Crypt-keeper wasp comes in and thwarts its plan. It begins by laying its eggs in these so-called ‘crypts’ created by the gall wasps. Once the larvae are born, they take over the gall wasp by forcing themselves inside it while it tunnels its way out of the tree and then causes it to drill a hole too small for it to get through, so its head becomes lodged in the opening. The crypt-keeper wasp then eats its way through the larger gall wasp’s entrails, finally breaking out through the head, killing it in the process.
This is somewhat reminiscent of a scene from the 1979 sci-fi film, Alien, where newborn aliens live inside their human hosts until they gain enough strength to finally erupt out of their chests.
This behaviour is a very uncommon form of hyper-manipulation, where one parasite manipulates and exploits another as its host. It appears that the primary objective of these parasites is to get their hosts to do the dirty work for them, since they are not strong enough to make their way out of the tree on their own.
According to one of the lead researchers on the study, Dr.Kelly Weinersmith, they tested out this idea and found that the crypt-keeper wasp finds it much easier to erupt through the gall wasp’s head rather than dig its own way to freedom.
The detailed research findings were published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.