Just a bit of background: one of my favorite zombie causers is from the Dead Rising video game series. In it, the undead are reanimated by a wasp-like insect that lays eggs in a corpse (I think. It's been a bit). I always thought that was a cool gimmick if nothing else, but something wondrous happened in the third entry in the franchise. A variant of zombie was introduced that was covered in hives of stinging wasps. I thought that was an amazing visual and a great idea.

With that in mind, I've been trying to think about a wasp hive and zombie symbiotic relationship. From the wasps point of view, zombies are free food. Zombies just don't care about wasps. However, I can't think of an actual reason why wasps would put their nests inside a walking corpse that's prone to lunging at living humans.

What benefits would a species of wasp-like insects have to receive so that they make hives in walking-corpse-style zombies?

For the framework of this question, the zombie is a rotting corpse that's being animated by malevolent spirits. It can be intentionally created, but have a nasty tendency to occur naturally on "cursed land". The point is that long term evolution/adaptation on the part of the wasp is possible here.

Also, I'm going to check the box that says only humans can become zombies. That makes this hypothetical setting less awesome, but closes the lid on what would otherwise be a big can of worms.

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    $\begingroup$ How does letting non-humans be zombies open a can of worms? Are you saying there might be worm zombies? $\endgroup$ – John Locke Aug 26 '18 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ Please make a follow-up question to this one along these lines! I really like the idea of waspzombies :D $\endgroup$ – Onyz Aug 27 '18 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnLocke With the rules of "cursed land" and spirits in mind, having a lot of creatures capable of zombie-ism makes for a absolutely chaotic ecosystem. You'd have zombie birds, mice, bears, and possibly even insects if anything decided to live there. Heck, maybe even undead plants depending on how you define things. That is awesome and all (very Dwarf Fortress, actually), but has so many ramifications that its worth a series of questions by itself. I thought it would be better if I kept things simple for this question, that's all. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Aug 27 '18 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion Ok, I was really looking forward to those worm zombies. $\endgroup$ – John Locke Aug 27 '18 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ maybe they use their blood to make honey and feed their young? like in Ethan van Sciver's Cyberfrog comic $\endgroup$ – nodws Aug 27 '18 at 17:24

Because it's a viable ecological niche, of course. The wasps are an evolutionary development of the Ichneumonoid wasps https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichneumonoidea which lay their eggs in living hosts, which the young then consume when they hatch.

For the wasps to become a hive species is an obvious evolutionary step. The hive controls the host ("zombie") so that it moves around to new food sources. The zombie lunges at other humans so that the wasps can form a new colony in the human. It's their form of reproduction.

Note that under this rationale the zombie isn't initially a rotting corpse. The wasps must parasitize a living human. The human eventually becomes something akin to a rotting corpse as the wasp larvae consume it from within. Which is part of the reason why the wasp hive is driven to find new hosts: eventually enough of the zombie is consumed that it just disintegrates.

PS: Having the wasps infect living humans gets around a lot of suspension-of-disbelief problems (IMHO, anyway) that come up when you try to reanimate corpses. I mean, unless your corpse is really fresh, decay has set in, so muscles and nerves don't work any more. Using living hosts just combines things that already exist in nature - the wasps, the zombie fungus, insects that lay eggs in humans...

PPS: And from today's news, it seems that parasitic wasps have been around for some time: https://www.livescience.com/63456-parasite-wasp-fossil-pupae.html

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    $\begingroup$ This is not a mental image for those with tryophobia. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Aug 26 '18 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of the fungus controlling ants by infesting their brains en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis $\endgroup$ – Viktor Mellgren Aug 27 '18 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ We need a Yuck-alert similar to the Spoiler-alert, on this site ;-) $\endgroup$ – Ivana Aug 27 '18 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ Dang, this form of symbiosis is so much better than I thought it would be. Giving the wasps the ability to influence the zombie's roaming solves a lot of problems on their end. I'm not super for the wasps going after living hosts in this particular setting, since they could just hang around curse zones and use all-ready dead zombies. That way the eggs aren't threatened by the host's immune system. Maybe the zombies wander around the curse zone and make sure there's a continuous supply of corpses for the following generations of wasps? $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Aug 27 '18 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ I'm imagining you'd get a lot of animate skeletons with wasp nests filling their ribcages. Also, since the wasps and spirits both benefit from this symbiosis, there's no need for the wasps to be able to directly control the zombies once they've turned- the spirits will want to send the hive-zombies wherever it benefits the wasps, since that in turn benefits the spirits. Heck, the spirits are probably more intelligent than the wasp nests, and could control the zombies in ways more beneficial to the wasps than the wasps could themselves. $\endgroup$ – Someone Else 37 Aug 29 '18 at 4:19

Are you "traditional"?

I'm not sure how much change to the concept of zombies you will accept. I'm saying "current" because it can change: Compare "running" zombies, which apparently have been used quite early, but have been popularized by 28 days later to a point where nobody would consider that out of the ordinary anymore.

The Idea

What if on zombification, there's a short period where your zombie's flesh - or better, only certain body parts - "melts" onto things? So, a guy gets zombified, it is attracted to the noise/movement of a wasp hive, attacks it and from then on it "sticks" to the zombie.

The concept is more a quick idea right now and needs to be worked out a bit, but a small period that determines a zombies "job" opens up a lot of other possibilites, too.

Some possiblities

Just at the top of my head, going with the "attracted by sound" reason, I can think of some interesting variations: Think of a lawnmower zombie. Think of a jackhammer zombie. Think of beeping alarm clock zombie - which at first sounds a bit ridiculous, but not seeing any zombie and only hearing an alarm clock getting nearer is some good horror. You can even go for some comical relief with boombox zombie.

And apart from the "job assignment", you don't need a lot of fantasy to explain certain story events with it. Again, top of my head, what about a zombie plugging a sewage system, or some machinery?

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    $\begingroup$ I gotta admit, that's a cool variation that has some definite potential to it. Other that giving the Zed-heads some weaponry and armor, you could also have them coating walls and cars and the like. Heck, you could easily have masses of zombies all struck together like a combination undead horde and the alien from The Thing. This answer isn't super relevant to my question, but it a really good idea regardless. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Aug 27 '18 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion Ohh I re-read your question an now see that it's more about why the wasps would do that on their own! Sorry, also a zombie fan here, your question gave me this idea and I just started writing :D $\endgroup$ – R. Schmitz Aug 27 '18 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, no skin off my back. Even if an answers a little off topic, if its interesting and well thought out I'll still appreciated it. I just sat back and imagined having to shoot all the heads of a 20-zombie fusion in order to get it to stop moving. That's a boss fight if I've ever seen one. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Aug 27 '18 at 15:31

jamesqf's answer is really nice I'd add just one other option to that; the wasps may also be getting a ride somewhere rather than just to the next food source. If the outside environment is hostile, like a city or a desert or similar, somewhere that water and vegetation are scarce and nonhuman hosts/prey are absent, then using humans as shelter and transport to a more hospitable location makes good sense. The human body is mechanically very good for moving through a wide variety of terrestrial environments and has a reasonable internal volume that can be taken over for breeding/sheltering without compromising the muscular structures needed for motion.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but how would you steer a zombie? $\endgroup$ – Ivana Aug 27 '18 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Ivana The same way parasites already steer hosts, make them fear whatever they want to avoid in favour of what they need, which they make hosts crave. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 27 '18 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Ivana wasps with time would likely learn that flying over a particular place would attract zombies by sound. There's only a slight big inconvenience, if zombies are attracted to a pool of water, the entire nest may die. $\endgroup$ – CPHPython Aug 27 '18 at 14:23

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