Emerald Cockroach Wasp: Turns Cockroaches into Zombies!!!

Christmas bug?
Location: Honolulu, HI
November 7, 2011 4:05 am
Found a bug at a school in Honolulu, HI. It is about an inch long. Its body is a metallic green, and its legs are red and green.
Signature: Help please

Emerald Cockroach Wasp

Alas, your request arrived too late to take advantage of Halloween.  Normally, we do not like to link to Wikipedia, however, when we typed in “green wasp, red legs, Hawaii” into a search engine, we discovered the Emerald Cockroach Wasp, Ampulex compressa, on Wikipedia.  We have heard about this parasitoid before, though this is the first submission to our website.  This is the wasp that turns Cockroaches into Zombies, the new hip monsters in pop culture films.  We then did additional research to verify this identification and we found an excellent description on Science Blogs:  The Loom.  Here is an excerpt from Carl Zimmer’s account:  “But things get weird when it’s time for a female to lay an egg. She finds a cockroach to make her egg’s host, and proceeds to deliver two precise stings. The first she delivers to the roach’s mid-section, causing its front legs buckle. The brief paralysis caused by the first sting gives the wasp the luxury of time to deliver a more precise sting to the head.
The wasp slips her stinger through the roach’s exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently use ssensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach’s brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.
From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach’s antennae and leads it–in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex–like a dog on a leash.
The zombie roach crawls where its master leads, which turns out to be the wasp’s burrow. The roach creeps obediently into the burrow and sits there quietly, while the wasp plugs up the burrow with pebbles. Now the wasp turns to the roach once more and lays an egg on its underside. The roach does not resist. The egg hatches, and the larva chews a hole in the side of the roach. In it goes.
The larva grows inside the roach, devouring the organs of its host, for about eight days. It is then ready to weave itself a cocoon–which it makes within the roach as well. After four more weeks, the wasp grows to an adult. It breaks out of its cocoon, and out of the roach as well.”  According to Wikipedia:  “The wasp is mostly found in the tropical regions of South Asia, Africa and the Pacific islands. …  A. compressa was introduced to Hawaii by F.X. Williams in 1941 as a method of biocontrol. ”  BugGuide has examples of Cockroach Wasps from the family Ampulicidae and the genus
Ampulex, however this species is not represented.  More about the Emerald Cockroach Wasp can be found on Scientific American:  Revenge of the Zombifying Wasp.

Comment from Cesar Crash in Brazil
About Ampulex Compressa
November 17, 2011
Hi, guys!
Y’know, about Enio Brutamonte’s picks of the Emerald Cockroach Wasp, I told him at the beggining to send you the photos, but he just gave the link. I sent him another e-mail begging him to send the photo, ’till now, he didn’t e-mail me back.
Every crickets I see in your site and bug guide are very different from the majority we have here. I’ll send some pics later when I come home. I have a strange grasshopper I’d like to identify too.
I’m sharing some images of some art I’m doing as a hobby. It’s masking tape, newspaper, wire, indian ink, acrilic paint and stuff.

17 thoughts on “Emerald Cockroach Wasp: Turns Cockroaches into Zombies!!!”

  1. Well, searching in internet, I see that almost all the websites says Ampulex compressa lives in Asia and Africa. But I was pretty pretty sure I used to see it here years ago, I have to tell I never seen it anymore. I remember a friend said his mom was stinged by one. But then, I found some references that says it really exists here, maybe it was introduced as a form of pest control, one reference is here: http://jornalcidade.uol.com.br/rioclaro/dia-a-dia/saude/38220-vespa-que-transforma-barata-em-zumbi-e-arma-contra-praga
    It says: Fox and his team have set up a colony of these zombie maker insects by luck – an example of the species invaded their laboratory and was captured. As it was a female, the single individual created many, because the non-fertilized eggs can produce males .Nobody knows where Ampulex compress comes from, but the animal was able to colonize almost all areas where there are cockroaches, including, of course, Brazil. The wasp has been used by scientists in Hawaii, at the beginning of last century, as a form of biological control of cockroaches”.

    • Hi again Cesar,
      It would make sense that the Emerald Cockroach Wasp should be able to survive in areas where the climate is conducive to its survival and where there is a ready food supply. Since the American Cockroach has such a wide distribution range, the predator would also be able to expand its range.

  2. So, from now on, it’lll be my goal to photograph such a wonderful creature to make a comparison. Maybe I’m wrong, it’s another metalic green wasp with nothing to do with it. I’m sure I don’t even had a camera the last time I saw one of these. I’ll ask my friends to help me if they see one!

  3. Dan, the guy who signed as Brutamonte is the owner of the photograph, I guessed him to show his photograph as a proof they’re really present here in Brazil.
    Thanx, Enio “Brutamonte”!

    • Thanks Cesar. We are happy to link to Brutamonte’s photo, but we would really love to post it as well. Perhaps you can convince him to submit it using our standard form.

  4. Thank God this site exists! I had the (dis)pleasure of having this Emerald wasp crawl into my apartment here in Hawaii and then I searched for hours on the web to find out what it is! Lived here all my life and have never seen one before! I’m now going to sleep with one eye open…

  5. One week after I seen one in a nearby neighborhood, I saw one today next to my house. The other came so close to my face that I could almost kiss it, I’m sure it was identical to this one. Today’s wasp, I had the impression of being black instead of red in it’s legs. The summer approaches in Brazil, this must be the reason I used to see it much more in Pirituba than here, I moved recently.


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