Cockroaches Use a Little Kung Fu to Stave Off Zombie Wasp Attacks

The showdown between a jewel wasp and a cockroach usually ends very badly for the cockroach. Glass and Nature/Shutterstock

We so seldom see articles extolling the reasons why we should appreciate cockroaches.

Mostly, we're obsessed with how to get rid of them.

Sure, roaches are no honeybees. Or even ants. But it doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from them.

Like, for instance, how to successfully fend off a zombie attack.

While humans have yet to deal with an actual zombie outbreak — aside from isolated events at the local mall around Christmas time — cockroaches have been fighting off zombification for a long time.

That would be due to a creature that we will never, ever write an appreciation of: the emerald jewel wasp, or just jewel wasp for short.

But make no mistake. These critters are no gems.

Despite being considerably smaller than the American cockroach, a jewel wasp is capable of making short work of the roach, thanks to the fearsome "neurotoxic cocktail" it wields.

With Halloween barely in the rear-view mirror and many of us undoubtedly suffering from horror fatigue, we won't go into grisly detail here.

We'll spare you the terrifying sequence that sees a wasp plunge its stinger directly into the roach's brain. And we won't dwell on how the toxin robs the roach of its ability to move on its own ...

No, let's just skip to the good stuff.

A new study suggests roaches may have figured out how to get off this ride from hell. They use good old-fashioned, butt-kicking kung-fu.

Kick like your life depends on it

That's right, according to the study published this week in the journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution, cockroaches kick like, well, the way you'd kick if someone was trying to turn you into a zombie.

They kick so hard, the researchers noted, that the jewel wasp's head can fall right off.

(And you thought you'd never catch yourself cheering for a cockroach.)

But most times, those quick, hard kicks are just enough to convince the wasp to go looking for an easier candidate for the job of being Satan's slave.

The jewel wasp actually delivers two stings that seal the roach's doom: one, paralyzes it and the second — the brain-piercer— turns it into a zombie.

Understandably, it's that first sting that needs to be avoided. For the study, Ken Catania of Vanderbilt University watched about 55 clashes between wasp and roach, slowing each down to about 1,000 frames per second.

Roughly half the roaches fell to the wasps instantly. The other half, however, delivered very high, powerful kicks directly to the wasp's proverbial melon.

Those kicks — from spike-laden legs no less — sent the aggressor "careening into the walls of the filming chamber," Catania wrote.

Every now and then, heads would even roll. But that's not all these feisty roaches did. Some dodged the dive-bomb outright. Even when they were caught in the wasp's clutches, a roach would use a "stiff-arm" defense to hold back the stinger. And finally, some desperate wretches resorted to biting the wasp in the belly at the very moment it drove the stinger into its brain.

So yes, we do have a thing or two we can learn from cockroaches. If ever you find yourself in the clutches of a zombie, you've got to kick and fight and even bite like there's no tomorrow. Or at least not a tomorrow you want to live in.