Cockroaches are a pest that are known to be insanely hard to kill. Yet when it comes to their relationship with the emerald jewel wasp, one cannot help but have a twinge of sympathy for them. The emerald jewel wasp will dive onto the back of an unsuspecting cockroach and inject it with a venom that makes the roach a docile slave to the wasp. The jewel wasp then lays her eggs inside the still-living cockroach so that her babies will have something to eat when they hatch.
The mindless cockroach then becomes the walking dead, just waiting to be devoured from the inside out. As it turns out, however, the cockroach isn’t completely defenseless in its perpetual war against the jewel wasp. According to Ars Technica, cockroaches are capable of using their long, hard legs to deliver wide, sweeping, karate-style kicks to ward off their attackers.
In a study by Vanderbilt’s Ken Catania, who has a peculiar interest and creative methods for studying predator/prey interactions, the researcher used ultra-slow speed videography of battles between cockroaches and jewel wasps to study the intricacies of the interaction. What Catania found was that cockroaches have some impressive instincts for martial arts.
If the cockroach senses the jewel wasp’s presence in time, it will rear up into what Catania calls its “en garde” position, allowing the roach to track the wasp with its antennae and elevate its body to better deliver a hard, swift kick to the approaching wasp. Using its legs like a baseball bat, a ferocious roach can fend off the wasp, which won’t take long to realize that there must be easier prey somewhere nearby.
The cockroach’s kicking defenses may sound awkward, but they are surprisingly effective. Catania found that 63 percent of adult roaches were able to detect the approaching wasp and fend off the attack for a full three minutes.
Catania hopes that his work will reveal how the unique predator and prey behaviors of these two organisms evolved over time. While the jewel wasp’s predatory behaviors are dedicated to a single prey (“every jewel wasp is of cockroach born,” says Catania), the cockroach has developed its complex defense systems against a range of potential predators.
In his paper detailing the study, Catania writes in a creative, informal style that is unusual in scientific circles. Summarizing the cockroach’s martial defenses against becoming a zombie slave to the jewel wasp, he suggests that for the cockroach, “The best strategy is to be vigilant, protect your throat, and strike repeatedly at the head of the attacker.”
Sounds like the first day at Krav Maga.