Parasites and the behavior of animals


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Here are 12 parasites who manipulate their hosts in incredible ways. Top image by Dick Belgers via Wikimedia Commons. Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga is a Costa Rican parasitic wasp that terrorizes the spider Plesiometa argyra. When it's time to procreate, an adult female wasp will seek out a spider, paralyze it and then lay an egg on its abdomen.

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After hatching, the larva wasp will feed on its host, while the spider goes about its business like nothing's wrong. Then things get interesting. After a couple weeks of bloodsucking, the larva will inject a chemical into the spider, which causes the spider to build a web like none it's ever built before. The spider sits motionless in its creation — which is far from pretty, but super durable and able to withstand pelts of rain — to await its fate. The parasite then kills the spider with poison, sucks it dry and builds a cocoon that hangs from the middle of the new web.

In fact, rats inherently know the smell of cat urine and run from it like their lives depend on it because, well, it does.

But if a rat is infected by the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii , it loses its instinctual fear of cat pee. Worse yet, the parasite appears to make the rat think it's sexually attracted to the revolting odor. Image by Jitinder P. Dubey via Wikimedia Commons. The Lancet liver fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum has a very busy life. As an adult it spends its time in the liver of a cow or another grazing mammal. Here it mates and lays eggs, which are excreted in the host's feces. A snail eats the poo, taking in the eggs at the same time. The eggs hatch in the snail and make their way into its digestive gland, where they asexually reproduce.

They then travel to the surface of the snail's body. As a defensive maneuver, the snail walls the parasites up in cysts and coughs up the balls of slime An ant comes along and gobbles up the fluke-laded slime balls.


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The flukes then spread out inside of the ant, with a couple of them setting up shop in the insect's head. When night approaches, the flukes take control. They make the ant climb up a blade of grass and hold tight, waiting to be eaten by a grazing animal.

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If the ant is still alive at dawn, the flukes release their control and the ant goes about its day like normal if the ant baked in the sun, the parasite would die, too. At night the flukes take over again and the cycle repeats until the ant becomes cattle food. Image by Adam Cuerden via Wikimedia Commons. When the nematode Myrmeconema neotropicum gets into Cephalotes atratus ants, it does something rather unique: It makes the ant look like a berry. You see, these South American ants are black, but they live up in the tropical forest canopy, where there are a lot of red berries.

So the nematode takes advantage of this fact by making the ant's gaster its bum, basically look exactly like a red berry. Infected ants also tend to be sluggish and walk around with their bums in the air, making them all the more appealing to fruit-eating birds.

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Image by Steve Yanoviak via Wikimedia Commons. Spinochordodes tellinii is a nematomorph hairworm that infects grasshoppers and crickets. As adults, the parasitic worms live in water and form writhing masses to breed. Grasshoppers and crickets ingest the worms' microscopic larvae when they drink the infested water.

The hairworm larvae then develop inside of the insect host. Once grown, they release powerful mind-controlling chemicals that sabotage the insect's central nervous system. The evil hairworms force the insect to jump into the nearest body of water, where it subsequently drown.

Yes, the hairworms actually cause their hosts to commit suicide. The parasites then escape their deceased host and the cycle begin anew. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Glyptapanteles is a genus of parasitic wasp that often infects Thyrinteina leucocerae caterpillars. The cycle begins when an adult wasp lays its eggs inside of a helpless baby caterpillar. The eggs hatch and develop inside of the caterpillar, as the caterpillar itself grows up. When the larvae are full-grown, they emerge from the caterpillar and pupate nearby.

But it seems the larvae somehow induced a kind of Stockholm syndrome in their former host. The caterpillar host stops feeding, but remains close to its parasites and will even cover them with silk. If a potential predator comes by, the caterpillar will defend the pupating wasps with violent head-swings.

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Leucochloridium paradoxum is a parasitic flatworm commonly known as the green-banded broodsac you'll see why it has this cringe-inducing name in just a moment. The flatworm breeds inside of the bird and its eggs get passed through the feathered host's digestive tract. The bird poops out the eggs and — you guessed it! In its larval stage, the parasite travels to the digestive system of the snail, where it develops into the next stage, the sporocyst. They rapidly reproduce and form long tubes of swollen "broodsacs.

Here, the broodsacs pulse green and yellow, causing the snail's eyestalks to resemble caterpillars, which birds love. But the parasite's manipulation doesn't stop there. Snails prefer the dark, so the broodsacs override this behavior and cause the snail to seek out light. Login with your institution. Any other coaching guidance? Don't have an account?

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Grouping has been widely accepted as a mechanism for protection from predation. Just as has been apparent with predation, there is now ample evidence that parasites biting flies, warble flies and parasitoids can impact an animal's individual fitness. Some aspects of grouping, namely an encounter-dilution effect and the selfish herd effect, appear to apply as much to protection of animals from flying parasites as protection from predators. The encounter-dilution effect provides protection when the probability of detection of a group does not increase in proportion to an increase in group size the encounter effect , provided that the parasites do not offset the encounter effect by attacking more members of the group the dilution effect.

The selfish herd effect provides protection from flying parasites to animals that are in the center of a group or more closely placed to other animals. Most of the quantitative evidence for the protection from flying parasites from grouping comes from studies on ungulates. Further investigation of these effects among a variety of taxa is needed for a full appreciation of the role of parasites in animal grouping and sociality. Authors: Michael S. Mooring 1 and Benjamin L. Hart 2. Restricted Access.

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