Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the cruelest of them all?

The more sadistic among you might enjoy this. When reading The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, I came across a reference to the Ichneumon wasp. This creature was so cruel, it was almost repellent. Since reading about it a few weeks back, I find myself thinking about it time and again. An ominous reminder that kindness is not one of nature's virtues. I have been meaning to share this anecdote for a time. So here goes -

Ichneumon wasps, with their habit of paralysing but not killing their victim, before laying an egg in it with the promise of a larva gnawing it hollow from within, and the cruelty of nature generally, were major preoccupations of Victorian theodicy. It's easy to see why. The female wasps lay their eggs in live insect prey, such as caterpillars, but not before carefully seeking out with their sting each nerve ganglion in turn, in such a way that the prey is paralysed, but still stays alive. It must be kept alive to provide fresh meat for the growing wasp larva feeding inside. And the larva, for its part, takes care to eat the internal organs in a judicious order. It begins by taking out the fat bodies and digestive organs, leaving the vital heart and nervous system till last - they are necessary, you see, to keep the caterpillar alive. ... I don't know whether caterpillars can feel pain. I devoutly hope not.

Bon appetit, baby wasp!


  1. The mere reading of this paragraph is so painful!

    I was reading about neuroscience experiments we conducted on macaque monkeys, now infamously called Silver Spring Monkeys (Sharon Begley, Train your mind, change your brain).

    A psychologist cut afferent ganglia that supplied sensation to the brain from their arms. This was to check if monkeys would use the limbs they could not feel in special situations.

    When these monkeys were found, it was found that these monkeys, treating their limbs as foreign objects, mutilated them and tried to chew them off.

    What cruelty we humans are capable of!

  2. fascinating......and highly instructive. I ought to learn more from nature.

  3. wow ! that effectively killed my appetite ! ..i recently read abt a parasite that alters the behaviour of rats so that they loose their fear of cats , which is where it wants to end up to complete it's life cycle ! I guess it was in a review of Carl Zimmer's - Parasite Rex ..which shld be next on my reading list now.

  4. i came across this radio talk on parasites..try it out