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Invertebrates
Discovery News, October 10, 2011

Spooked Spiders Weave Weird Webs
By Jennifer Viegas

Creepy looking spiders strike fear in the hearts of many (during Halloween or not), but the real power may belong to a parasitic wasp that can manipulate spiders into constructing unusual webs, according to a recent PLoS ONE paper.

In fiction, Dracula and other characters can cast spells on victims. This wasp, Zatypota percontatoria, does something similar to spiders in real life.

Co-author Stano Pekar, an associate professor in the Institute of Botany and Zoology at Masaryk University, explained to Discovery News that "before pupating, the parasitoid makes the host-spider build a protective web. The funny thing is that such a web is built by the spider before overwintering, while the parasitoid makes the spider to build it in summer."

The web is also tailor made to house and protect the wasp pupa, with the spider in its zombie-like state weaving a domed structure to offer this protection.

Pekar and co-author Stanislav Korenko are not exactly sure how the immature wasp manipulates spiders.

"It is a real mystery how the larva controls the behavior," Pekar said. "Many people would like to know this, as a similar mechanism must also apply to parasites that control the behavior of humans."

You may be a parasite victim and not even know it, since some studies suggest certain parasites can control the human mind. They can also invade and control the gut and other parts of the body.

Pekar said that the control can happen in one of two ways: "either via neuromodulators or via the endocrine system."

So by somehow manipulating nerves or the glands that secrete hormones, parasites get others to do what they want. Even that is sometimes not enough.

The tale is defintely not a "happily ever after" ending for the spider. When it completes construction of the weird web, its fate is sealed.

Pekar said, "Once the spider finished the structure, the larva killed the spider, consumed it and built a pupal cocoon inside of the structure."

Copyright © 2011 Discovery Communications, LLC.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton