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Tobacco hornworm covered in the cocoons of hatched braconid wasp pupae.

The 1st time I read anything about these parasitoid wasps was years ago, and the main point of the article was to explain how Charles Darwin – the father of evolution himself – became an athiest, when he witnessed the larvae of these wasps emerging from a hapless hornworm they had just eaten their way out of.

The story ended up being total bullshit, but the question the article raised is a good one: What kind of God would allow things like this to exist? I might need to illustrate the absolute horror inflicted on these guys to get my point across.

The life cycle of the braconid wasp begins when the female injects her eggs into the host insect. Along with her eggs, the female injects a virus (polydnavirus) into the host, which immediately begins disabling the host’s defenses against intruders (eg. wasp eggs). Without the virus, the hosts immune response would destroy the eggs, so the virus runs interference until they can hatch and begin feeding inside the host insect.

This feeding is not indiscriminate, the larvae will be careful not to chow down on anything that might kill the host prematurely. They are meant to be kept alive until the wasps larval stage is complete. Once the feeding starts, it doesn’t let up until the larvae are ready to pupate, which is when they will bore their way out of the host insect and spin their little cocoons.

Most times the host is killed by the emergence of these now plump wasp grubs, but in some cases the hornworm survives this for a short while, and they’ll schlep the shells of their unauthorized brood around with them for the rest of their (short) life.

This is only one example. There are an estimated 15000 different species of braconid wasp, and they are species specific (meaning they only lay their eggs on one type of insect) so its not just hornworms that have to deal with these sadistic little fucks.

Who knows, maybe God is a gardener and he was tired of hornworms eating all of his plants, so he’s making an example of them.



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