In which we learn something disturbing about the miraculous animal kingdom by turning you into a cockroach pursued by a wasp.
There’s a wasp out there in the natural world. It is known as the Emerald Cockroach Wasp, and it is much prettier than it sounds. In size and shape, it resembles an ant more than a traditional wasp, and unlike most insects, its body is an iridescent turquoise. Nobody knows why this wasp is such a striking colour. To look at it, perhaps you would be less repulsed by it than other wasps*.
You are wrong, dear reader. You should be more so**. And if by chance you awoke this morning in the form of a giant cockroach*** you should actively flee if you see one. Flee. Flee.
The colour of the wasp, however odd for its genus, is not the interesting (and frankly awful) characteristic of this anthropoid. What really defines this creature is its preferred methods of reproducing, specifically of laying its eggs. On the living form of a poisoned cockroach.
And just to make this more traumatic^ we’re going to speculate you are a little cockroach^^ minding your own business, wandering about the tropical forests of South Asia.
You’re the average size of a grown man’s hand and are one of the world’s hardiest insects, adapted to living in extreme temperatures of both hot and cold. Your body is split into three segments, and a ten-segmented abdomen. Two large compound eyes made up of 2,000 lenses (humans have one) that allow you to see almost 360 degrees of your surroundings, although you are unable to see red light. Two antennae, located on your head, house your scent organs. Two organs called cerci on your backside, much like parallel tails, allow you to detect air movements. In short, you are a pretty impressive little beastie, much bigger and stronger^^^ than, say, a blue wasp.
As a cockroach, you’re wandering about searching for something to eat with the mouth located on the underside of your head. You can eat a lot of stuff including glue, hair and leather, but you’re unlikely to come across these delights in your tropical forest homeland, so let’s say you’re on the hunt for a carrion. When suddenly, a fellow insect, half your size at best, and nowhere near your weight appears from the undergrowth and grabs your head.
At first, it might not seem so bad. You are by far the stronger of the two creatures and begin to fend it off. It is at this point the wasp stings you in the brain. Specifically, the female wasp stings you in the ganglia, the cluster of nerve cells responsible for sensation and movement. At this point your ability to fight the wasp is disabled. The sting introduces a neurotoxin which paralyses your forelegs. Then just for kicks^* the wasp proceeds to chew off half of each your antenna. This is only beginning of your troubles.
The wasp then stings you again. Again it aims for the ganglia, this time injecting a chemical designed to block your escape reflex. A strange feeling is now passing along your body. The natural instincts causing you to fight and run are rendered mute. After a few seconds, you are a compliant and calm victim. Without any fight or flight left in you, the little wasp, who hasn’t a hope in hell of carrying you alone, simply leads you like a dog on a chain to a burrow nearby.
Down, down into the burrow you are led. You have no will to resist. When the wasp decides you are deep enough, it will let go, but you will not flee. You will simply remain still and brain numb as the wasp lays an egg on your body.
Do you see where this is going?
The wasp will then retreat from the hole, leaving the egg nestled upon your abdomen. It will cover the hole with leafy debris and pebbles to keep other, arguably less nasty, predators from finding you. Meanwhile, you’ll sit undisturbed in the hole. And then the egg will hatch.
With the neurotoxin still strong in your system, you won’t so much as twitch. The wasp larva will attach itself to your body and begin feeding on your insides. And it will eat you from the unessential parts in. After five days or so of nibbling, it will dig itself into your body and start thriving on your organs, leaving the nerves and breathing system as a tasty dessert to the rest of you. And due to this dining order, you will be alive the whole time*^.
Eventually, after eight days of feeding, the wasp will form a cocoon inside your body and emerge later from your dry, empty husk as a fully grown wasp. At least your tortuous last week will be over. There are no wasps in cockroach heaven**^.
At least your tortuous last week will be over. There are no wasps in cockroach heaven**^, I’m sure.
Why am I telling you all this? Why did I bother to invite your imagination to pretend you are doomed insect being eaten alive? Usually, I would conclude with some philosophic prose on how we ourselves are either the wasp or the cockroach, but that’s not why I bring this up.
Mostly, it is because earlier today I was sitting downcast in front of the television when a nature documentary came on featuring a cockroach who landed itself in the circumstance I described above. Despite not entirely cheering my spirits, I did think ‘well, at least I’m not a cockroach being eaten alive by a wasp’, so there’s that. Either I’ve perked you up with the same thought, or I’ve fueled your nightmares for the next week or so. If you find yourself having a bad day, however, I think it might be something worth remembering.
You’ve got to admit it’s actually interesting though, right? Gross and disturbing, but interesting.
Does writing about insects make anyone else itchy? I’m going to need to shower now.
Pleasent non-wasp-infested dreams, hypothetical readership.
*I write this as somebody with a particular dislike of waspy, buzzy members of our animal kingdom. In my opinion, they are tiny flying spears with anger issues. I once saw one sting a woman in the eye. Completely unprovoked. Stung her in the eye. Forgive me my prejudice. However, I’m sure once you read about the Emerald Cockroach Wasp you’ll at least be more wary of the Hymenoptera clan.
**At this point, you can simply take my word for it and hop on your merry way, ignorant of the horrid tortures happening in the natural world. However, if you are brave enough to put knowledge before comfort, ride on with me…. maybe bring a bucket. For the puke.
***Metamorphosis II: One man awakes as a giant cockroach and another awakes as a giant emerald cockroach wasp. The hunt is on. I’m kidding, here, but I wouldn’t put it past Hollywood to make it into a legitimate film starring Bruce Willis as the wasp.
^Because I realise, I have hyped it up more than I probably should have.
^^There are 4,600 to choose from. I’m not sure which kind hang around in tropical South Asian climates, and we’re here to talk about the wasp. Feel free to use creative license and pick any cockroach you like; heck, you can even make up your own if you like. Be whatever cockroach your heart desires, just don’t get attached to your new form.
^^^I feel sorry for the cockroach sometimes. I mean, they’re not portrayed well on TV. I myself would not be best pleased to find one in my home, but they are, as creatures go, relatively interesting and ‘harmless’ (not 100% sure on all 2,400 varieties). At least I’ve never heard of a cockroach stinging someone in the eye.
^*I’m not kidding; biologists have yet to determine the exact reason the wasp does this.