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Pest of the Week: Emerald Cockroach

Ampulex compressa, commonly called Emerald Coc...


The Emerald Cockroach wasp has a metallic blue-green body, with the thighs of the second and third pair of legs being red. The female is approximately 22 mm long. The male of this species is smaller, and does not have a stinger.

Also known as a jewel wasp, the Emerald Cockroach wasp is best known for its unusual reproductive behavior, which involves stinging the cockroach; and then using the body as a living-host for its larvae.

The female Emerald Cockroach wasp will sting the cockroach twice, paralyze the front legs of the victim; and disable the escape reflex. Then the wasp leads the cockroach to a burrow, by pulling one of the roach’s antennae; similar to a leash. Once they reach the burrow, the Emerald Cockroach wasp lays a white egg, on the cockroach’s abdomen.

Adults live for several months. Mating takes about one minute, and only one mating session is necessary, for a female wasp to successfully parasitize several dozen cockroaches; making them an unlikely source for natural roach control.

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Ampulex compressa English: Ampulex compressa, ...
Image via Wikipedia

While a number of venomous animals paralyze prey as live food for their young, the Emerald Cockroach wasp is slightly different, in that it initially leaves it’s cockroach victim mobile; and modifies it’s victim’s behavior in a very unique way.

As early as the 1940s, female Emerald Cockroach wasps have been used as natural exterminators, against cockroach pests. When it attacks, this natural pest control provider will sting the cockroach two times, delivering a powerful venom. In 2003, a study showed that the wasp is able to sting directly into specific ganglia of the cockroach, paralyzing the front legs. This strike allows for a second venomous sting, which is delivered to a carefully chosen area in the cockroach’s brain; specifically the region that controls the escape reflex. As a result of this second attack, the cockroach will become sluggish, and fail to show normal escape responses.

At this point, the Emerald Cockroach wasp will proceed to chew off half of each of the cockroach’s antennae. It is believed that this is done to replenish fluids, or to regulate the amount of venom released; by the natural pest control provider. The wasp, which is obviously too small to carry the paralyzed cockroach, then leads it’s hapless victim back to the wasp’s burrow, by pulling on one of the roach’s antennae. Much like walking a dog, on a leash. Once the two have reached the burrow, the Emerald Cockroach wasp will lay a single white egg (approx. 2 mm long), on the cockroach’s abdomen. It then leaves the burrow and fills in the entrance with pebbles, more to keep other predators out; than to keep it’s helpless victim in.

With the escape reflex disabled, the helpless cockroach lays in the burrow, while the Emerald Cockroach wasp’s egg hatches; in approximately three days. The hatched larva then lives and feeds for up to 5 days on the cockroach, chewing its way into it’s victim’s abdomen. Over the next eight days, the Emerald Cockroach wasp larva will consume the victim’s internal organs, in an systematic manner which will guarantee that the cockroach remains alive until the larva enters the pupal stage; and forms a cocoon inside the hollowed-out body. Eventually, the fully grown wasp will emerge from the cockroach’s carcass, and begins its adult life as an exterminator of cockroaches; and provider of natural insect control services.

The End.

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