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A wasp horror story that makes you glad you're not an insect

27 January 2017

Rather than crawl out of the tree, crypt galls that are infected by crypt-keeper wasps only manage to plug up the hole with their heads.

In 2015, Scott Egan noticed while walking in Florida Beach, some oak trees with distinctive swelling on their branches.

The host, Bassettia pallida, usually matures into a crypt (the gull).

The team hopes to expand on this study in order to figure out how the crypt-keepers manage to change the gall wasp's behavior. Then the crypt-keeper wasp eats its way through the other wasp's body and bursts out through its head.

A new species of parasite wasp was found, and it was named after the ancient Egyptian God of evil and chaos, Set. 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.

The ravenous wasp has been given a scientific moniker in honour of the sinister, jackal-headed diety Set who killed his own brother and chopped him into countless pieces. As part of this study, E. set has now been found in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. To do this, they plan to CAT scan branches to view various stages of the gall wasps life in order to track how the parasites develop over time.

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The new wasp, described under the name Euderus set belongs to a genus of approximately 77 species with a cosmopolitan distribution.

The diabolical wasp finds the gall wasp's burrow, which is known as a crypt, and deposits an egg inside. "One hard thing is that we can't see what's happening until they come out", Weinersmith said. Beyond that, the crypt-keeper wasps are just one of the few hypermanipulators, which are parasites that manipulate the behavior of parasites that are manipulative themselves.

And while Set was often depicted as a red-haired monster like the griffin, the crypt-keeper wasp is said to be actually quite attractive under a microscope, with olive green, turquoise and iridescent blue hues to its shiny coat.

The crypt-keeper wasp (Euderus set) in action. The horror show begins when E. set gets the gall wasp to chew a hole through the swelling and push its head through, at which moment E. set comes bursting out through the gall wasp's head, leaving bits of the poor bug scattered behind in its own grave (thus, the crypt analogy).

According to David Hughes from Pennsylvania State University, the crypt-keeper must secrete some kind of mind-addling chemical. 2017. Tales from the crypt: A parasitoid manipulates the behavior of its parasite host. Afterwards, the parasite consumes the internal organs of the host and makes its way out through the head.