Are Jewel Wasps Dangerous To Humans? Truth Revealed

Jewel wasps are beautiful creatures with a terrifying secret: they are mind controllers! But are jewel wasps dangerous to humans? Let’s find out.

The deadly and poisonous jewel wasp is indeed a danger to humans. Its sting (mostly used to parasitize cockroaches) is excruciatingly painful.

But that’s only if you go out of your way to disturb the blue-green wasp. 

The wasp world is teeming with many species of insects paralyzing and then depositing their eggs in various parts of their prey’s body to ensure proper nourishment and shelter till they have grown up.

These are known as parasitoids, and the jewel wasp is another unique example of this species.

Are Jewel Wasps Dangerous To Humans? Truth Revealed

Also known as the emerald cockroach, this wasp can be spotted in tropical regions throughout the globe. Let’s find out what threats this gleaming insect poses to humans! 

What Is A Jewel Wasp?

The shiny and metallic-bodied jewel wasp (Ampulex Compressa) or chrysidid wasp is commonly found in tropical areas throughout Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands.

It belongs to the Ampulicidae (cockroach wasps) family and can be easily mistaken for a misplaced brooch or jewel on a leaf due to its fantastically colored body. 

The prime nesting locations of this bug include places with diverse floral plants, undisturbed grass patches, and soil. 

Abundantly visible in the warmer seasons, these solitary wasps are a part of an extremely complex ecosystem, and they are neither directly advantageous nor harmful.

On the one hand, they have a stinger, like most wasps, and can deliver painful stings if needed.

On the other, they love a good old nectar sip and are known to be decent pollinators in the process.

But most importantly, these wasps paralyze and parasitize cockroaches to feed their larvae – a characteristic feature of parasitoid wasps. This helps keep your home and garden free of these pests.

How Do They Parasitize Cockroaches?

In the world of parasitoids, the jewel wasp is truly remarkable because it doesn’t use brute force or deadly venom – it uses mind control on its prey.

The cockroach doesn’t know what the jewel wasp has in store for it. An ambush and two stings later, the knowledge won’t help him much. 

As a first step, the jewel wasp carefully stalks her prey from the skies and delivers a sting that temporarily paralyzes the roach’s front legs. 

After shutting down the cockroach’s ability to move (temporarily), the wasp takes her sweet time stinging its ganglia (the insect equivalent of a brain). 

Her venom-delivering stinger, which is about 8/100th of an inch long with dome-shaped sensitive bumps at the end, hits specific spots of the prey’s brain.

The stinger bumps spots that deliver a cocktail of compounds into the cockroach’s brain, but most importantly, it hits the roach with dopamine.

Dopamine is the same compound that makes humans euphoric. It gives an unmistakable feeling of contentedness, as though there is nothing wrong with the world.

The dopamine in the sting slowly sends the roach into a state of bliss so powerful that it is no longer willing even to defend itself from the wasp! It becomes a zombie, willing to do whatever it’s told by the wasp.

Are Jewel Wasps Dangerous To Humans? Truth Revealed
Source: Sharadpunita, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After the effects of the first sting (which left the cockroach paralyzed) subside, the first thing that the poor creature does is groom itself.

Some scientists believe this long process of grooming is part of the zombification of the roach, making it clean and ready for the larvae to feast on. Others think it is a mere distraction for the cockroach while the wasp looks for a burrow.

Whatever may be the case, the roach sits around cleaning itself, rather than running for its life, while the wasp searches for an appropriate nesting place for her young. 

It is terrifying how efficiently the female wasp makes its prey a willing participant in its grisly death. 

But the long and morbid ordeal is still not over. Next, the wasp gnaws off the antennae of the cockroach to sip on its nutritious blood and replenish her energy. 

She then leads the cockroach to her burrow, dragging the antennae (almost like a dog on a leash), and deposits an egg between the middle pair of legs. 

After shutting the entrance of her burrow, the female wasp takes off and leaves the larva to complete the work. 

The wasp larva hatches around two-three days later and starts its feast with juices of the middle legs of the cockroach for nourishment. 

Two molts later, the last instar larva devours its way into the abdomen, saving the nervous system and gut for the final meal.

Forty days later, the new adult wasp rises out of the cockroach’s carcass.

Are Jewel Wasps Dangerous To Humans? Truth Revealed
Source : Zezinho68, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do They Sting Humans? 

Jewel wasps have a stinger for a reason- they may use their stinger to defend themselves. Spare yourself from the extremely painful stings and avoid getting in their paths! 

Fortunately, these metallic-bodied wasps do not have the same effect on humans that they have on cockroaches. The sting is still going to hurt, though. 

Other wasps, like emerald wasps, have a stinger as well. However, not all wasps are inclined to use them. 

For example, the yellowjacket wasp is more likely to sting you, while cuckoo wasps are unable to sting. The female cuckoo wasp instead uses her jaws to break into her host’s nest.

What To Do If Jewel Wasp Stings You

You can prevent stings with the help of protective clothing or insect repellants. Avoid a walk in their nesting locations. In case you’re stung, you should:

  • Apply ice to the stung area for some temporary relief. Keep applying once every hour for 20 minutes. You can also wrap the ice in a towel and apply it to the area. 
  • To get some relief from the itching and swelling, you can rely on an antihistamine (like diphenhydramine) or one that doesn’t sedate you (like loratadine). 
  • One can take Tylenol or ibuprofen for pain relief. 
  • Get yourself a booster tetanus shot if you haven’t gotten one in the last ten years. 

If it’s an allergic reaction, seek medical help immediately. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where are jewel wasps found?

Jewel wasps can be found in warm, tropical areas. These bejeweled insects can be found throughout Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands. 
They prey on cockroaches to provide their larvae with proteins but prefer nectar for their own carbohydrate-heavy needs.  

How big is a jewel wasp?

A female jewel wasp is approximately 9/10th of an inch long, while the adult male jewel wasp is comparatively smaller and lacks a stinger. 
Only the female wasp has the stinger, which it uses to paralyze the cockroach. You can also tell the female apart from the red-colored thighs of her second and third pair of legs. 

What does a jewel wasp eat?

A jewel wasp depends on floral plants for nourishment. They sip nectar from flowers and are also known to stalk their prey in vegetation. Flat-topped carrot flowers are their favorites. 
The larvae of a jewel wasp get their nourishment from the paralyzed cockroach that also acts as its shelter till the time it develops into an adult wasp.

Can wasps mind control?

The female jewel waspsdisplay extraordinary mind-controlling abilities. 
She not only paralyzes roaches but also turns them into a zombie that spends their time grooming themselves to be her larva’s lunch. 
The wasp injects these prey in such a way that they don’t even try to free themselves. Instead, they follow her around like a dog on a leash. 

Wrap Up

Evolution waves its wand of survival and leaves us with a treasure of wisdom by giving us a few glinting wasps in a box. 

The jewel wasp brings with it a few lessons in tow. First and quite obvious, survival of the fittest, and secondly, the fact that appearances are deceptive. 

Lastly, we learn that all that glitters is not gold, especially if it intends to turn you into a zombie.

Thank you for reading!

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