Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Long days and zombie roaches

Fourteen-hour days are just not much fun. What's even less fun is when the majority of those 14 hours are spent not teaching, but administering and doing other miscellany. In the last few weeks I've found that even though I'm working nearly constantly during the week, I end up with only a few minutes to review my slides before rushing off to lecture or lab. In fact, thanks to the Qwizdom debacle last week, I walked into lecture one day without even having reviewed the second half of my lecture. Considering that I chose to teach at a community college precisely so I could focus my entire professional effort on teaching, this is extremely frustrating.

But enough complaining; here's some cool biology for you to enjoy:

Carl Zimmer has a detailed report on Ampulex compressa, a parasitic wasp that turns roaches into zombies:
The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently uses sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it--in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex--like a dog on a leash.

And it only gets better from there - go enjoy. Biology's so damn cool.

(via BoingBoing)

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