Narrator: Think you have problems? Be glad you're not a caterpillar. This is Science Today. A caterpillar pest called the tobacco hornworm destroys tomatoes, potatoes and other crops. Entomologist Nancy Beckage of the University of California, Riverside is studying its natural enemy, a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in the bloodstream of the hornworm. The eggs hatch there and eventually burst out of the caterpillar's skin to form cocoons.
Beckage: So often what you see in the field are caterpillars with cocoons on their backs. And then the adult wasps which emerge from those cocoons then fly off to find new caterpillars to parasitize. The host meanwhile cannot complete its own metamorphosis, so the moth will never emerge to reproduce.
Narrator: Along with eggs, the wasp injects an AIDS-like virus that knocks out the caterpillar's immune system.
Beckage: And we're trying to discover the mechanisms, how this happens, in hopes of developing novel pesticides based upon the action of these natural parasites and their associated virus.
Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Steve Tokar.