Crypt-keeper wasps named after the Egyptian God of evil and chaos

Posted January 27, 2017

But a newly discovered parasitic wasp, called Euderus set, has other ideas. Because that's literally what it does to another kind of wasp.

Kelly Weinersmith, the lead author of a study about crypt-keeper but also a parasitologist at Rice University, stated that the behavior of this insect is very odd.

The wasp known as Euderus set, or E. set, deposits an egg in the developing gall wasp's woody haven. To reproduce, the gall wasp manipulates the physical characteristics of its tree host, the sand live oak, hollowing out its stems. But the female Euderus set lays an egg in this crypt and prevents the gull wasp from emerging from it in the spring, by making a much smaller hole through which it was supposed to get out.

"So, it looks like the specific goal 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 god Set is also reported to have trapped his brother Osiris in a crypt to kill him, later retrieving the body and chopping it up into small pieces, which also fits with E. set, the crypt-keeper wasp, which kills its host in a crypt, and devours the hose from the inside out, leaving major sections of exoskeleton (i.e., body parts) chopped up and distributed in the crypt", they write. Dubbed the "crypt-keeper wasp", it infects a rival species with its young, which, after hatching, proceed to chew their way out through the victim's head.

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"It could be the parasitoid cues hosts to excavate early, but makes them do it less well than usual", said Weinersmith, who studies parasites. They also saw that the crypts where the wasps were stuck had another companion, a second wasp that was half the size of the gall wasps. Nevertheless, as odd as it may be, this parasitic insect is also fantastic because, through natural selection, this species managed to control its host.

Egan, who is an expert on gall wasps, took off some branches to his lab.

The host, Bassettia pallida, usually matures into a crypt (the gull). "So numerous stories that have been uncovered are just as cool as the coolest science fiction movie".

Because close to 600 species in the Eulophid family are found in North America, and many attack or serve as biocontrol agents for agricultural pests, the researchers would also like to know if E. set's manipulations are more common. His lab at the University of Iowa studies the evolution of parasitoid wasps, which he described as one of the most species-rich groups of animals on the planet. "So it's been in museums for years, there for people to see".