Darwin once offered the ichneumon wasp as proof against the central tenets of natural theology, which believed in the creation of all living things by a benevolent god. Expressing his opinion in a letter to American botanist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote: ”I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae.”
What form of animal behavior could be so abhorrent that its existence alone could stand as proof against divinity? Dear readers, the author of BV would like to warn you that what follows should not be repeated to small children, nor the highly suggestible, lest they– like the author herself– suffer recurring nightmares because of it. Even those strong of stomach, beware: no zombie movie could prepare you for this one.
Ichneuman wasps are what is called “parasitoids:” the wasp selects a nice, juicy looking victim, lands, and with a flick of her stilleto-sharp ovipositor, injects her eggs forcibly into the host’s vulnerable body. Not leaving anything to chance, she will then inject a paralytic, a poison that paralyzes the victim without killing it.
Then, keeping the living incubator alive as long as possible, the newly-hatched young first eat their host’s fatty deposits and digestive organs, before moving on to the choicest- and most fatal- morsels: the heart and central nervous system.
I believe, dear reader, that the proper response to this is: