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The bizarre world of parasitic wasps - Miles Zhang

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A cockroach and jewel wasp are locked in battle. The wasp latches onto the cockroach and inserts her stinger into the cockroach's brain, where her venom blocks its fight-or-flight response. Now, the cockroach is essentially a zombie, and its carcass will be used to grow the wasp’s offspring. Miles Zhang explores the gruesome evolutionary strategy known as parasitoidism.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Miles Zhang
  • Director Denys Spolitak
  • Narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott
  • Music Salil Bhayani, cAMP Studio
  • Sound Designer Zavid Lan, cAMP Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Senior Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Script Producer Cella Wright
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Did you know that famous xenomorphs from the Alien movie franchise, which use humans as hosts, were originally inspired by parasitoids? Parasitoids even influenced the thinking of Charles Darwin, who wrote to the American naturalist Asa Gray in 1860: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.”

 Parasitoids are not restricted to Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants). Parasitoidism has evolved multiple times within the Order Diptera (true flies), and there are even parasitic beetles and moths! They can be used as biocontrol agents to manage pest species, but some species can also attack other beneficial insects. If you want a behind-the-scenes tour of the British Natural History Museum, which has one of the largest collection of wasps, check out this interview with a fellow wasp enthusiast Dr. Gavin Broad.
 
One of my favorite places to look for parasitoid wasps is within oak galls, which can host a diverse group of parasitoid wasps, such as the crypt keeper wasp. If you want to learn to identify them, a good place to start is by posting photos on iNaturalist, which can often provide an accurate identification either by AI or by another naturalist such as myself. This is a fantastic way to explore the diversity of parasitoids around you, and you might even be able contribute to the discovery of new species, as many parasitoid wasps are poorly known and rarely seen alive. If you really want to learn about how to identify wasps, there is this newly developed virtual course called WaspID Course, or the long running in-person The Hym Course.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Miles Zhang
  • Director Denys Spolitak
  • Narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott
  • Music Salil Bhayani, cAMP Studio
  • Sound Designer Zavid Lan, cAMP Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Senior Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Script Producer Cella Wright
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace