dglobalnews.com Crypt keeper wasp is a parasite of a parasite
Published: Fri, January 27, 2017
Research | By Kayla Price

Crypt keeper wasp is a parasite of a parasite

The complex parasite-host relationship between E. set and the crypt-gall wasp host are further delineated in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Accordingly, the scientists have nicknamed the wasp "crypt-keeper".

"So, it looks like the specific objective of the manipulation is to help the crypt-keeper wasps emerge, because they are weaker excavators than their hosts", says Kelly Weinersmith, parasitologist at Rice University in Houston, to Live Science.

The scientists named the wasp after Set, the Egyptian god of evil and chaos. Typically, when the adult wasps are ready to leave, they chew a hole through the tree's woody tissue and make their way out.

After months of study, researchers found that the larvae of E. set feed, grow and pupate inside the body of the gall wasp, which itself is feeding off live oak trees by forming galls or swellings on the plant.

"It could be the parasitoid cues hosts to excavate early, but makes them do it less well than usual", said Weinersmith, who studies parasites. Then, he chopped his body into small pieces and scattered them all over the world.

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This behaviour is a very uncommon form of hyper-manipulation, where one parasite manipulates and exploits another as its host. "So numerous stories that have been uncovered are just as cool as the coolest science fiction movie".

The insect's range extends along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast, from Georgia to Texas.

Unperturbed reproduction of the gall wasp. "I did some dissections, shaved off the head with a razor blade, got into the wood and in the belly of these beasts was another little tiny larva, sitting in the abdomen". When analyzed under a microscope, they appear as one of the most colorful insects. "We're talking to people to see if we can CAT scan the branches in various stages". The experiments showed the crypt-keeper was about three times more likely to die in the crypt if it had to dig through the head case and the bark. And because E. set belongs to family of close to 600 species across North America, many of which serve as biocontrol agents for agricultural pests, the team would also like to learn if these manipulations are more widespread.

Being able to manipulate its host's behavior while growing inside of it, a new species of parasitic wasp seems to have deservedly received the name of the ancient Egyptian god of evil and chaos Set. Beyond that, the crypt-keeper wasps are just one of the few hypermanipulators, which are parasites that manipulate the behavior of parasites that are manipulative themselves. The way it goes about its business is basically by preying on its primary victim, another parasite called the gall wasp.

This wasp known as galls represent some tree cysts being developed with the help of the host wasp's young.

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