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New species of 'soul-sucking' Southeast Asian wasp named after Harry Potter character




No amount of mischief could manage to downplay the terrifying yet impressive reproductive tactics of a newly-named species of wasp discovered in Thailand in 2008. It's no wonder, then, that these so-called “soul-sucking” insects have been officially named after the ethereal horrors from Harry Potter's world – the dementors.
 
'Soul-sucking' behavior
 
The newly christened Ampulex dementor lays its eggs inside cockroaches, injecting neurotoxins into the unsuspecting roaches' heads to essentially “zombify” them and prepare them for their new role as incubators.
 
“After being stung by the wasp, specific behaviours of the cockroach are inhibited (e.g., escape behaviour) while others are unaffected (e.g., locomotion),” the team wrote in their paper, which was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.
 
“The wasp grabs the partly paralysed cockroach by one of the antennae and guides it to a suitable oviposition location, the prey following the wasp in a docile manner. This is a unique strategy of behavioural modulation of a prey by a wasp’s sting.”
 
The wasp then proceeds to lay its egg inside the cockroach, which hatches after a few days. The hatched larva consumes its host afterwards.
 
A. dementor is among the 200 known wasp species that require host incubators for reproductive purposes. It is notable for its predominant colors—bright red and black—which may serve as a warning for would-be predators.

 
Naming the Wasp-That-Must-Be-Named
 
The wasp was named via a poll of visitors at Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum), during the 30th “Long Night of the Museums” in January 2012. The researchers displayed a high-resolution picture of the wasp on a large screen, and gave the voters a list of name options to choose from.
 
The description for A. dementor in the poll read: “The species name refers to the dementors, which are fictional characters appearing in Harry Potter books. Dementors are magical beings, which can consume a person’s soul, leaving their victims as an empty but functional body without personality or emotions. The name is an allusion to the docility of the paralyzed cockroach.”
 
Other options were A. mon (after an ethnic group in Thailand), A. bicolor (alluding to the wasp's red-and-black color scheme), and A. plagiator (to characterize the wasp as an “ant mimic” due to its appearance and way of movement).

'Wingardium Levios-AAAAGH!'
 
According to the researchers, the poll helped raise the museum visitors' involvement in naming the new species. The team hopes that such activities would help to further boost the general public's interest in biodiversity.
 
Think about it, though: If the need ever arises to come up with an A. dementor repellent spray, scientists would already have the perfect name for it: “Expecto Patronum.” — TJD, GMA News
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