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Parasitic Wasps and Wolf Spiders: Researchers Track Larva As It Develops On And Consumes Host

Dec 07, 2015 05:09 PM EST

Some parasitic wasp species, including a Brazilian species known as Paracyphononyx scapulatus, lay their eggs in the bellies of wolf spiders where they can grow and develop, all while the spider carries on its everyday activities. At a certain larva stage, however, the parasites reach out for their first solid meal – killing its host and fully consuming it within a 48 hours.

A recent study, conducted by researchers from Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Sao Paulo, tracks the entire cycle of larval development from the egg laying stage through the formation of a full-grown wasp. To do this, researchers caught a recently parasitized wolf spider and monitored it in an enclosure, according to a news release.

The parasitic wasps use wolf spiders as their hosts so that the larva can feed off the arachnid's hemolymph, which is the equivalent of blood in vertebrates. Until now, little was known about this curious behavior. Additionally, researchers found that after leaving their hosts, the larva began to search for a place inside the enclosure to construct a cocoon, where it would spend the next 32 days metamorphosing into a fully grown female wasp.

The team of researchers, led by Ph.D. student Hebert da Silva Souza, believes the larvae does not harm its host until later stages so that it can remain safe from predators, such as ants, which could otherwise eat the spider's dead body. Their findings provide new information regarding the parasitic relationships between some wasps and spiders.

Compared to Paracyphononyx scapulatus, other parasitic wasps are known to manipulate their hosts' behavior, so that it wraps itself and the larva in a cocoon-like silk casing in order to protect the parasite as it feeds and grows. The recent findings could help explain why certain styles of parasitism have evolved independently in wasp groups.  

Their study was recently published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

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