The social hierarchy of a wasp is pretty rigid. But what if a snide little parasite made you a deal. You could live the life of a queen, no foraging for anyone but yourself, living off the fat of the land. All you have to do is become subservient to a macabre march of death that enslaves your brethren and propagates the evil parasite.
For many paper wasps through Europe, the answer is “yes, please!”
The parasite X. vesparum infects the wasp which withdraw from their previous social pattern and instinctively fly away to a meeting point with other parasites. It’s there the parasites mate, with the male hosts disposing of their wasp coats, leaving them to die. But the females remain inside the wasps, turning them into zombie queens which find food for themselves and fatten up while infecting other nests and plants with the parasite larva.
“After that, they start wandering among the colonies,” spreading their deadly larval load, said Manfredini. “They don’t lay eggs. They don’t build colonies. They’re completely anarchic.”
Get your zombie queen paper wasp costume ready for Halloween!