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

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2003 Jul;189(7):497-508. doi: 10.1007/s00359-003-0432-0. Epub 2003 Jun 27.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cockroaches / drug effects*
  • Cockroaches / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Grooming / drug effects
  • Hypokinesia
  • Nervous System / drug effects
  • Paraplegia / chemically induced*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Synapses / drug effects*
  • Thorax / drug effects
  • Wasp Venoms / toxicity*
  • Wasps


  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Wasp Venoms
  • Dopamine