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The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  872 ratings  ·  180 reviews
On a barren seafloor, the pearlfish swims into the safety of a sea cucumber’s anus. To find a meal, the female bolas spider releases pheromones that mimic a female moth, luring male moths into her sticky lasso web. The Glyptapanteles wasp injects a caterpillar with her young, which feed on the victim, erupt out of it, then mind-control the poor (and somehow still living) s ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Penguin Books
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Hannah Greendale
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar reads like an evening spent with an eccentric friend who, with an irresistible dose of humor, imparts his knowledge of the most bizarre yet fascinating evolutionary adaptations.
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"The female wasp begins by seeking out a caterpillar. And like the ant-decapitating fly, she drills into her victim. Unlike the fly, though, the wasp deposits as man as eighty eggs into the poor critter. These will hatch into larvae and feed on bodily juices...all the while the caterpillar goes about its life, meandering around and the larvae release chemicals to paralyse their host and erupt in masse from its body...but this isn't the they squirm out, the larvae shed their ...more
Sonja Arlow
3 ½ fun stars

I love watching QI (thanks YouTube) and regularly listen to a podcast called “Tell Me Something I don’t Know” so it’s obvious that I am a bit of a trivia junkie.

This book is filled with animals doing evil, weird, and necessary things to one another, all in the name of procreation and survival.

There are too many wonderous creatures to mention but there are 2 that stand out.

The Hag Fish that basically choke predators by enveloping them with snot

The indestructible Water Bear that ca
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Highly recommend this as a read-aloud with a friend or partner, there is just too much crazy shit in the animal kingdom to not share. One quibble though, while the illustrations were gorgeous, actual photographs would have been better. I googled basically everything to see what it really looked like.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Science at its most accessible, "The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar" is written in a voice that's a crazy amalgamation of Jacques Cousteau, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and a 10-year-old boy.

This is a gleeful look at some of the most fascinating and appalling behaviors in the animal kingdom, and how these behaviors came about over time, in order to solve the most basic problems of survival and reproduction. I couldn't help but Google the animals in each chapter, to get a visual glimpse behind the
Lubinka Dimitrova
A delightfully silly bag of useless (at least for me), but interesting facts, presented with such humour that this turned out to be one of the books I mostly enjoyed this year. Despite all the gross details about the habits of those animals (literally), it was impossible not to enjoy the flair with which many of the discussed species were named. Highly recommended for a quick, fun reading.
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredible and weird. I love science but I haven't studied biology or zoology in depth, so I was happy to discover that this book is informative but not overly dense. It's the perfect kind of book to read furtively on a plane, hoping that the person next to you won't glance over and see the words, "ADVENTURES IN HAVING A SIX INCH LONG CLITORIS" emblazoned across the page. After reading you'll have a newfound respect for this bizarre world we live in and all the strange inhabitants w ...more
May 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
For those of us who have wondered, "Oh My Gawd! What is that thing?" or "How can one survive in these tough climates?" comes a collection of stories about the strange animals we share this planet with.

From the brainwashing wasp to the fungus-controlled ant, Matt Simon tells story after story about the amazing things animals can do to survive and how they evolved into it. Each story is more fascinating than the next with chapters broken up by themes. Simon is irreverant, but hilarious as he brea
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you like "Monsters Inside Me" on the Animal Planet TV channel, you'll love this one.

If you like ridicule, snark, wordplay like puns and satire related hyphenated adjective named critters, you will love it. It's good, although all those aspects of the writing style all together got a tad "too too" for me at points. You can't believe some of these lifestyle patterns could get more gross in practices as the book goes on, but they do. And most of them are perfect fodder for his humor.

If you have
A popular science book with a bit of an emphasis on the “popular”. Not that there’s anything wrong with making science accessible to laymen such as myself, and if you are thinking of reading this book, prepare to have your mind comprehensively boggled!

Darwin famously cited the behaviour of the Ichneumonid wasps as one of the things that persuaded him about natural selection. These wasps lay their eggs inside the living bodies of caterpillars, and when the eggs hatch the larvae eat the caterpilla
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Besides the subject of the book's title, meet the tongue-eating isopod, a sex-changing crustacean that swims into a fish's mouth, eats its tongue, then becomes the fish's replacement tongue until it lets go, leaving the poor fish unable to feed and starving to death. Or how about the pistol shrimp, which shoots out cavitation bubbles producing temperatures of 8000 degrees Fahrenheit and noise levels of 210 decibels. Then there's the hagfish, a bottom feeder that can produce so much slime in self ...more
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-nature
Okay, the title alone is great, come on. And I'm a big biology/zoology buff so this was a great book for me.

If you're someone who is interested in the many creatures that live in the world around you but you fall asleep when things get to technical and "scienc-y" this is the book for you! Matt Simon writes in a very accessible voice the is peppered with sarcastic jokes (and some bad jokes) and has the undercurrent of a smartass telling you something you don't know (but not in an annoying way, a
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I really REALLY liked this book. It's easily portable, the sections for each critter are short enough to read in quick snatches, and it is FUNNY. Matt Simon has quite the sense of humor when it comes to the most insane bits of life around us. And yes - there is a lot of talk about butts. Because...animals are weird. The night I took this home, intending to read it, I spent half the night laughing and reading bits out loud to my husband -'s also quite good for that.

If you know someon
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
***I wont this book in a Goodreads Giveaway***

FIVE STARS! This book is hilarious and informative and I'm so full of random knowledge about animals that I'm going to burst. The Pink Fairy Armadillo is my new favorite thing. It's back looks like a shell, but it's actually a radiator that uses blood! That's too cool for school. Anyway, this book is nerdy and fun and I highly recommend it to pretty much everyone.
Melissa Bennett
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. I was constantly telling anyone who would listen all the interesting facts I learned. It was totally amazing to see how these creatures have learned to survive. Each section on each creature starts out with a beautiful pencil drawing of them then goes on with around 4-5 pages of their amazing world in which they live. In those pages are blocks with offshoots of other interesting facts.
I took a star off for a few small combination of things. One was that you could tell the
If you love the bizarre adaptations of nature, then this is the book for you. I happen to be someone who digs these weird facts and stories, and this book was a DELIGHT to listen to. At times on audio, the jokes didn't seem to deliver as well as they would in print, but in addition to being really interesting, this has a lot of humor packed in what can sometimes be downright horrifying for humans to think about. ...more
I feel so blessed to have won a finished copy of this book in a goodreads giveway. The hardback edition I received is so beautiful, with a stunning cover and plenty of illustrations at the beginning and scattered throughout each chapter. I graduated from college with a degree in Zoology, so while many of the lifestyles of the creatures mentioned in this book weren't new to me, I couldn't help grinning at the easy way Simon writes about them. I still learned new things and had fun reading, but th ...more
Dec 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
An excellent read! Creepy, cringe-worthy, and full of crazy critters, bizarre situations, and soooo many WTF moments! My only complaint is that the author was very heavy-handed in his feelings on Evolution vs Creationism. I don't care if you prefer one over the other, but after a point, I felt a little bit annoyed by it. We get it. You believe in evolution. That's fine. But, stop batting the Creationists over the head with it. ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it
We all have the someone who without warning says something to us that's personal that makes us very uncomfortable. We get that shocked look and tell them that was just way to much information. This book is that someone and within a few pages you are not just uncomfortable but disturbed yet oddly cannot stop reading. I think I learned more about a side of the animal kingdom then I ever wanted to know but at least I now have some new facts for the next dinner party. ...more
Julie Trapp
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
A very odd/weird creature facts book that makes you either say "WOW! That was fascinating!" or "Gross, that was creepy and disgusting!" Put me in the latter group. You do learn many odd (interesting, to some) eating, mating, sex, etc. habits of organisms. An ant-decapitating fly, a tongue eating isopod, a bone eating worm, and assassin bug - all there for your reading pleasure. ICK!!! ...more
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfic
Every single animal in this book >>>>>>>>>>> the entirety of the human race

Also, the more details I find out about Laika, the more I want to curl into a ball and cry. The saddest animal that ever lived.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was fun and educational, and I loved Matt Simon's sarcastic writing style. It was a good balance of really interesting science delivered into bite-sized chapters, and the illustrations were fun too. Several times, I turned to google to learn more about some of these crazy creatures. ...more
Pete daPixie
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
The front cover looks like it could be a Roald Dahl children's book. In fact, come to think of it, 'The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar' is so packed with gore, guts and sex that the kids would love this book. I liked it for three stars, but added an extra star for Matt Simon's humour.
For those who look out into space for weird and frightening life forms, they need look no further than planet earth. For, as Mr Simon has catalogued, our rock is crammed full of life forms that are mean, nast
Michelle Nicholson
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
For anyone who is interested in the ways evolution influences different species then this is a book for you. It's full of weird-ass creatures that you won't be able to get enough of.
The author keeps his descriptions and explanations simple enough, for those who don't completely understand biology, without actually dumbing it down to the point of Condescending Teacher. He keeps it funny too. Which is great because really, how can you keep a serious tone when discussing "penis fencing"?
I already
Stephen McQuiggan
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For anyone who believes there is such a thing as a benevolent God, here is a bestiary of such mind-numbing brutality and inventiveness you wish it was fictional. This is Nature that would give a drug addled David Cronenberg nightmares. From flies that turn ants into their zombie slaves, fish that live in the anus of sea cucumbers whilst feasting on their gonads, to meat eating snails that drug their prey with insulin, each chapter is a jaw-dropper. Simon's prose is hilarious too. Very, very ente ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Our world is amazing! This book made me laugh and wonder and want to know more. I immediately bought three more copies to share with others.

Also this book makes me wish I taught high school instead of middle school; as there is much talk about animal and insect genitalia. But hilarious. Read this if you can handle it.
Bill Leach
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lightweight look at some of the most bizarre behaviours that have arisen in the world of nature. Each subject is covered a few sparse pages with many asides, clearly written for an uneducated audience. In most cases, Simon shows the evolutionary reasoning that lead to the development, and even ends the book with a salute to Darwin.

Any animal that looks interesting leads to an internet search for more information. The book's bibliography is reasonable and helps make up for the fact that the bin
Elizabeth Perez
This was a fun book about animal and bug trivia. I kept looking up more about certain animals that the author mentioned because he just didn't elaborate as much as I would hope.

I read this via audiobook but I still liked it without the pictures although now that I see all the detailed art in the book sample I think I'd want a regular copy as well. The audiobook was really funny I think the reader added a lot to it.
Scott Lupo
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A super fun read! Matt Simon writes close to 40 vignettes on some of the most evolutionary crazy insects and animals on planet Earth. Mind controlling, penis fights, hiding in another's anus, and snot choking are just a few gems you will find in this book. Believing in evolution helps to like this book. Also, you kind of have to be good with the author's snark writing. He acknowledges (in the acknowledgments section!) that some people will like the snark, others won't. I found it humorous and ad ...more
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
An excellent peek into the lives of many creatures.
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Matt Simon is a journalist who writes Wired Science's 'Absurd Creature of the Week' column. He has also edited Wired's 'This Day in Tech blog', which was compiled into the book Mad Science, and writes a second column called 'Fantastically Wrong' that explores the strangest mistakes in folklore and science. He lives in San Francisco. ...more

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“The pearlfish swims up a sea cucumber's anus, makes itslef comfortable, and eats its host's gonads.” 0 likes
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