Baby Wasps Disinfect Cockroaches Before Eating Them


If cockroaches had nightmares, the emerald cockroach wasp surely would deserve a prominent place therein.

These colorful, tiny parasitic wasps sting American cockroaches twice, once in the midsection to prevent them from running away, and a second time directly in the brain, to make the insects sluggish and zombielike. The wasps then drag the roaches by their antenna, akin to a human pulling a dog on a leash, into a protected nook and lay an egg on the roach. The egg ultimately hatches into larvae that devour the roach from the inside out.

About six weeks later, a young adult wasp emerges after spinning a cocoon inside the shell of the roach. But there’s a catch: What’s to prevent the cockroach “meat” from spoiling? Cockroaches are notoriously dirty animals, covered in bacteria that begin to spoil their flesh — and threaten to harm larval wasps — during this long incubation period.

A study published January 7 in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that these larval wasps secrete a surprising amount of potent antimicrobial compounds to prevent their cockroach bounty from spoiling.

“They virtually soak their cockroach host with the secretion to inhibit the growth of competitive microbes that would degrade their food and of pathogenic microbes that threaten their lives,” said study co-author Gudrun Herzner, a researcher at Germany’s University of Regensburg.

The study found that Ampulex compressa larvae secrete several types of antibiotics, specifically the chemicals mellein and micromolide, which inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses, Herzner told LiveScience.

“On the one hand, the finding is surprising, because such a simple, little insect larva uses such a sophisticated strategy to ward off detrimental bacteria,” Herzner said. “The larvae are like little chemical plants that produce large amounts of different antimicrobial substances.”

However, she continued, it was not really a surprise to find that these parasitic wasps would have evolved to secrete some antimicrobial substances, given that the cockroach is the young wasp’s only food source, which would by itself spoil if not somehow preserved. The wasps live throughout the tropical regions of Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Micromolide is considered a promising compound to treat Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the microbe that causes tuberculosis, Herzner said.

This is not the only example of insects producing antimicrobial compounds. The European beewolf wasp hunts honeybees, and coats their bodies in an oily substance that inhibits microbes from growing. Certain types of burying beetles also disinfect the carrion they use as larval food. But in both of these cases, the adult animal secretes the antimicrobial chemicals; the emerald cockroach wasp is a rare example of a larval insect making antibiotics, Herzner said.

Man dies after winning live roach-eating contest in Florida

A contestant in a roach-eating contest who downed dozens of live bugs and worms collapsed and died shortly after winning the contest in South Florida, authorities say.

About 30 contestants ingested the insects during Friday night’s contest at Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach about 40 miles north of Miami. The grand prize was a python.

Edward Archbold, 32, of West Palm Beach became ill shortly after the contest ended and collapsed outside the store, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office statement released Monday. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities were awaiting results of an autopsy to determine a cause of death.

The sheriff’s office said none of the other contestants fell ill.

“Unless the roaches were contaminated with some bacteria or other pathogens, I don’t think that cockroaches would be unsafe to eat,” said Michael Adams, professor of entomology at the University of California at Riverside. He said he has never heard of someone dying after consuming roaches.

“Some people do have allergies to roaches,” he added, “but there are no toxins in roaches or related insects.”

There was no updated phone number listed for Archbold in West Palm Beach.

“We feel terribly awful,” said store owner Ben Siegel, who added that Archbold did not appear to be sick before the contest.

“He looked like he just wanted to show off and was very nice,” Siegel said, adding that Archbold was “the life of the party.”

A statement from Siegel’s attorney said all the participants signed waivers “accepting responsibility for their participation in this unique and unorthodox contest.”

The bugs consumed were from an inventory of insects “that are safely and domestically raised in a controlled environment as food for reptiles.”

Colonoscopy Reveals Living Cockroach in Patient’s Colon

“A 52-year-old woman with a history of depression was referred by her  primary physician for colorectal cancer screening. She had no family  history of colorectal cancer and a review of systems was positive for  abdominal bloating. Bowel preparation was done using 4 L of polyethylene  glycol the evening prior to screening colonoscopy. The procedure was  uncomplicated with no gross mucosal pathology, however, an insect was  found in the transverse colon (Fig. 1, to the left), was found in the transverse colon on a routine screening colonoscopy.). The insect was aspirated and sent to the lab for further identification. The insect had three body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen) with ventrodorsal flattening of the body and a segmented abdomen, three pairs of legs extending from the thorax (with spikes and claw-like terminal appendages), elongated hind legs, and a pair of elongated antennae extending from the head to beyond the hind legs.These morphologic findings were most consistent with the nymph form of Blattella germanica (German cockroach) of the Blattellidae family, a common household pest. The patient had a cockroach infestation at home and hence it was hypothesized that she may have inadvertently ingested a cockroach with food.”