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How one enslaving wasp eats through another

Parasite that forces trees to do its bidding gets enslaved itself

12:00pm, March 16, 2017
Euderus set wasp

PRETTY LITTLE KILLER  Springtime for parasitoids in the southeastern United States means a female Euderus set wasp (one shown) searches oak stems for victims hidden inside.

Parasites can drive their hosts to do weird, dumb things. But in certain oak trees, the parasites themselves get played.

“Creepy and awesome,” says Kelly Weinersmith of Rice University in Houston, who has helped reveal a Russian doll of nested parasitisms.

The saga begins when two majestic live oak species in the southeastern United States send out new shoots, and female crypt gall wasps (Bassettia pallida) arrive to lay eggs. A wasp mom uses the delivery ­end of her reproductive tract to drill through tree bark, injecting each of her eggs into a separate spot in the oak.

Wasp biochemistry induces the tree to form a botanical womb with an edible lining largely free of oak defense chemicals. The tree is hijacked into nurturing each larva, and wasp life is good — until the unlucky ones get noticed by a second exploiter.

Another wasp species, a newly discovered Euderus

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