Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 189, Issue 7, pp 497–508 | Cite as

Wasp uses venom cocktail to manipulate the behavior of its cockroach prey

  • F. LibersatEmail author


The sting of the parasitoid wasp Ampulex compressa is unusual, as it induces a transient paralysis of the front legs followed by grooming behavior and then by a long-term hypokinesia of its cockroach prey. Because the wasp's goal is to provide a living meal for its newborn larva, the behavioral changes in the prey are brought about by manipulating the host behavior in a way beneficial to the wasp and its offspring. To this end, the wasp injects its venom cocktail with two consecutive stings directly into the host's central nervous system. The first sting in the thorax causes a transient front leg paralysis lasting a few minutes. This paralysis is due to the presence of a venom component that induces a postsynaptic block of central cholinergic synaptic transmission. Following the head sting, dopamine identified in the venom appears to induce 30 min of intense grooming. During the long-term hypokinesia that follows the grooming, specific behaviors of the prey are inhibited while others are unaffected. We propose that the venom represses the activity of head ganglia neurons thereby removing the descending excitatory drive to the thoracic neurons.


Ampulex compressa Grooming Neurotoxins Paralysis Periplaneta americana 



central nervous system




giant interneuron


postsynaptic potential


sub-esophageal ganglion


thoracic interneuron



I wish to dedicate this review to my post-doctoral mentor and friend J.M. Camhi who introduced me to neuroethology and for sharing with me his curiosity and enthusiasm for animal behavior. I am grateful to J.C. Schaeffer, R.E. Ritzmann, C.M. Comer, G. Haspel, and J.M. Camhi for their valuable comments on this review. I thank my outstanding collaborators K. Fouad, A. Weisel-Eichler, L. Rosenberg, J. Casagrand, and particularly G. Haspel for performing the challenging experiments reported in this review. I also thank G. Glusman for his excellent technical assistance and Gal Haspel for preparing the illustrations presented in this review. For their kind gifts of wasps, I am very grateful to Mr. Wiederholz of the Aquazoo of Düsseldorf, P. Pearce-Kelly of the London Zoo, and K. Velman and E. Bruins of the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam. This work was supported by a grant 96/00472 and is currently supported by grant 2001044 from the United States-Israel Bi-national Science Foundation (BSF). All experiments reported in this review comply with the Principles of animal care, publication No. 86-23 (revised 1985) of the National Institute of Health and also with the current laws of the State of Israel.


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© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Life Sciences and Zlotowski Center for NeuroscienceBen-Gurion UniversityBeer-ShevaIsrael

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