Parasites & Odd Effects Caused By Parasites

sherbetbizarre

Special Branch
Joined
Sep 4, 2004
Messages
5,020
How's this for a headline?

Parasitic flies turn fire ants into zombies

It sounds like something out of science fiction: zombie fire ants. But it’s all too real.

Fire ants wander aimlessly away from the mound.

Eventually their heads fall off, and they die.

The strange part is that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service say making "zombies" out of fire ants is a good thing.

"It’s a tool — they’re not going to completely wipe out the fire ant, but it’s a way to control their population," said Scott Ludwig, an integrated pest management specialist with the AgriLife Extension Service in Overton, in East Texas.

The tool is the tiny phorid fly, native to a region of South America where the fire ants in Texas originated. Researchers have learned that there are as many as 23 phorid species along with pathogens that attack fire ants to keep their population and movements under control.

So far, four phorid species have been introduced in Texas.

Wandering aimlessly

The flies "dive-bomb" the fire ants and lay eggs. The maggot that hatches inside the ant eats away at the brain, and the ant starts exhibiting what some might say is zombie-like behavior.

"At some point, the ant gets up and starts wandering," said Rob Plowes, a research associate at UT.

The maggot eventually migrates into the ant’s head, but Plowes said he "wouldn’t use the word 'control’ to describe what is happening. There is no brain left in the ant, and the ant just starts wandering aimlessly. This wandering stage goes on for about two weeks."

About a month after the egg is laid, the ant’s head falls off and the fly emerges ready to attack any foraging ants away from the mound and lay eggs.

Plowes said fire ants are "very aware" of these tiny flies, and it only takes a few to cause the ants to modify their behavior.

"Just one or two flies can control movement or above-ground activity," Plowes said. "It’s kind of like a medieval activity where you’re putting a castle under siege."

New colonies

Researchers began introducing phorid species in Texas in 1999. The first species has traveled all the way from Central and South Texas to the Oklahoma border. This year, UT researchers will add colonies south of the Metroplex at farms and ranches from Stephenville to Overton. It is the fourth species introduced in Texas.

Fire ants cost the Texas economy about $1 billion annually by damaging circuit breakers and other electrical equipment, according to a Texas A&M study. They can also threaten young calves.

Determining whether the phorid flies will work in Texas will take time, perhaps as long as a decade.

"These are very slow acting," Plowes said. "It’s more like a cumulative impact measured across a time frame of years. It’s not an immediate silver bullet impact."

The flies, which are USDA–approved, do not attack native ants or species and have been introduced in other Gulf Coast states, Plowes said. Despite initial concerns, farmers and ranchers have been willing to let researchers use their property to establish colonies. At the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Fort Worth in March, Plowes said they found plenty of volunteers.

Just one or two flies can control movement. ?.?.?. It’s kind of like a medieval activity where you’re putting a castle under siege."

http://www.star-telegram.com/804/story/1371092.html
 

ramonmercado

CyberPunk
Joined
Aug 19, 2003
Messages
53,879
Location
Eblana
Zombified beetle!

It's just bizarre... and utterly beautiful at the same time.

Those aren't some strange arrangement of antennae on a beetle but the fruiting bodies of a "zombie fungus" that has taken control of the insect.

Its conquest complete, the fungus is about to spread its spores to the wind to find new victims to consume.

This fascinating picture by Frank Deschandol is a Highly Commended image in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) competition.

The overall winners will be announced by London's Natural History Museum (NHM) next month.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49615571

zombeetle.jpg
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
27,735
Location
Out of Bounds
The complexity of insect parasitic strategies gets even more complicated - or mind-bogglingly worse, if you prefer ...

Researchers have recently discovered that the so-called crypt-keeper wasp is a hyper-manipulator - i.e., a murderous parasite whose victims are themselves parasites (in other words, a second-order parasite).

To make things worse, it appears the crypt-keeper wasp is able to hyper-manipulate multiple vicim species.
The Creepy 'Crypt-Keeper' Wasp Has a Terrifyingly Gruesome Survival Technique

The crypt-keeper wasp is hardly a fussy eater. Given the chance, this creepy parasitic insect will chew through the heads of at least seven different species to survive, a new study has found.

Discovered just a few years ago, this gruesome predator (Euderus set) is known as a 'hyper-manipulator' - a parasite that manipulates a parasite that manipulates a host.

From what little we know so far, the crypt-keeper's prime prey appears to be the parasitic gall wasp - known for tricking its plant host into covering its eggs with a gall, or a swelling of nutrients.

These are the so-called 'crypts' in which the crypt-keeper also deposits its eggs. And in doing so, the larvae of the crypt-keeper can thus infect the larvae of the original occupant.

The next step is simple: manipulate the gall wasp so that when it's done developing, it chews a much smaller hole in its nest than necessary. As it tries to scramble out, the wasp's head will then hopefully become stuck, killing the creature in the plugged hole.

Only then can the crypt-keeper eat its way out, right through the other parasite. ...

When the crypt-keeper was first discovered in 2017, it was caught parasitising only one species of gall wasp, Bassettia pallida.

To find out how many others could be vulnerable to this spine-chilling fate, researchers from the University of Iowa collected more than 23,000 galls, encompassing roughly 100 species. Raising the wasps, the team was surprised to find evidence that crypt-keepers were manipulating more than 300 individuals from six previously unknown species of prey.

The added complexity of a hyper-manipulator was thought to limit its range of prey, because such activity requires intense specialisation – but the seven hosts of the crypt-keeper are spread across five genera, which represents a relatively diverse group.

"This pattern of host use is unexpected," the authors write.

"Many insect parasites of plants and animals are taxonomically specialised, and for parasites that manipulate the behaviour of their hosts, the symbiotic intimacy implied by behavioural control might be expected to further restrict host range – though the literature to date is equivocal on this point."

Among all seven gall wasps, in fact, their crypts were found to be more similar than the creatures themselves. This, the authors argue, suggests there's something about the crypts that makes them more vulnerable to attack, as opposed to overlapping characteristics in the host's physical defences.

Parasites that manipulate other parasites are an extremely rare phenomenon that is rarely studied. There's a lot we have yet to learn about them... but how badly do we want to know?

The research was published in Biology Letters.
SOURCE: https://www.sciencealert.com/creepy...gs-into-many-a-species-to-ensure-its-survival
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
27,735
Location
Out of Bounds
This 2017 The Atlantic article describes the discovery of the crypt-keeper wasp and its gruesome habits.

Perhaps even more interesting is the claim that such parasites-on-parasites lifestyles are common, with chains of inter-parasite exploitation extending to as many as four levels or steps.
The Parasite That Compels Other Parasites to Shove Their Heads Into Holes

In 2015, Scott Egan was walking along a Florida beach when he noticed some oak trees with distinctive swellings on their branches. He recognized them as the work of gall wasps—parasitic insects that lay their eggs in plants. From within, the larvae manipulate trees into creating chambers full of nutritious tissues. Tucked away in these crypts, the young wasps can eat their fill in safety. Once they turn into adults, they chew their way out and fly away.

Egan, being a keen naturalist and an expert on gall wasps, snipped off some of the branches, took them back to his lab, and kept them in a container on his desk. After a couple of months, he noticed that a few orange insects had fallen to the bottom. Those were the gall wasps—an orange species called Basettia pallida, which had finally chewed their way out of their crypts. But not all of them made it. Egan noticed that some were stuck, their heads wedged in their own escape holes.

To find out why, Egan teamed up with Kelly Weinersmith, a parasitologist and a colleague at Rice University. They cut open the branches and realized that every stuck wasp had a companion inside its crypt—a second wasp, half the size of the first, and iridescent blue. And in every case, the blue wasp was eating the orange one.

The blue wasp was a completely new species, and Weinersmith and Egan named it the crypt-keeper wasp. It’s a stunning example of a hyperparasite—a parasite whose host is also a parasite. This lifestyle is surprisingly common, especially among wasps. Many species lay eggs in the bodies of other insects, only to have other wasps lay eggs in their young. And sometimes, hyperparasites can be parasitized by other hyperparasites, creating hierarchies of bodysnatching that can grow to four tiers. ...
SOURCE: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/inception-but-with-parasites/514211/
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,454
By coincidence I was reading about banyan trees today. Without the help of humans, they can only propagate with the aid of a kind of wasp that lives in symbiosis with the tree. However, this is only one of 17 species of 'fig wasp' that live in the banyan fruit.
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
27,735
Location
Out of Bounds
This worm is a parasite on snails, whose eye stalks it causes to grow and pulsate to mimic caterpillars and attract predatory birds.

Here's an illustration of an infected snail.

Snail.jpg

A mind-controlling parasite

Searching for a real-life zombie? Look no further than a parasite-controlled snail with translucent and colorful eye stalks that mimic caterpillars.

Leucochloridium paradoxum is a parasitic worm that amber snails ingest from bird poop. Once consumed, the parasite then proceeds to take control. Larva invade the snail’s eyes and transform them from slender stalks to throbbing caterpillar-like masses that will catch a bird’s attention for a meal. If eaten, the parasites develop into adults in the bird’s gut. There, they lay eggs that are released in the bird’s droppings.

But before it makes it into the bird’s stomach, Leucochloridium employs its powers of mind-control to ensure that the snail does what the parasite needs it to. Infected snails ditch their nocturnal ways and venture into broad daylight on the highest parts of plants – where they present an easy target for hungry birds.
SOURCE: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blog...mithsonian-specimens-get-you-ready-halloween/
 

AlchoPwn

Public Service is my Motto.
Joined
Nov 2, 2017
Messages
2,536
This worm is a parasite on snails, whose eye stalks it causes to grow and pulsate to mimic caterpillars and attract predatory birds. Here's an illustration of an infected snail. SOURCE: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blog...mithsonian-specimens-get-you-ready-halloween/
It was this sort of behavior altering parasite that led Dawkins to invent the idea of the meme. He later applied the model to religion, and the internet applied it to popular culture. The rest is... if not history... perhaps current affairs?
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
27,735
Location
Out of Bounds
Here's a fungal parasite that essentially turns its host into a battery of spore-shooting structures ...
Creepy Parasitic Fungus Turns Its Host Into an Artillery of Spore-Shooting Cannons

A parasitic fungus that infects the common housefly spreads its tiny white spores in a deeply unsettling yet admittedly impressive way.

Flying its host to a high place, the hidden fungus turns the fly into an artillery of water cannons, spraying its surroundings with some of the fastest jets of liquid measured in the natural world.

Known as Entomophthora muscae, the name of this pathogenic fungus roughly translates to "destroyer of the fly", and, incidentally, that is exactly what it does.

First up, the fungus infects and manipulates the brain of its host. Then, before digesting its guts, organs, and body fat, it forces the fly to climb and settle as high as possible.

Only when the victim has officially met its end, having been eaten from the inside out, do the cracks begin to appear. Erupting from the fly's abdomen comes an artillery of fungal structures, known as conidiophores.

Like a plethora of micrometric stalks, these protruding appendages are thought to work sort of like a water pistol; each and every one is a liquid-pressurised cannon, ready to let loose on the world below. ...

FULL STORY: https://www.sciencealert.com/unsett...t-into-an-artillery-of-spore-shooting-cannons
 

Comfortably Numb

Antediluvian
Joined
Aug 7, 2018
Messages
8,933
Location
Phone
Research: Evolution of life cycle of parasitic worm that takes over 'zombie ants'

Source: phys.org
Date: 3 March, 2020

It could be the plot of a B-horror movie: microscopic parasitic worms invade the brains of ants, and use mind control to make the "zombies ants" do their bidding.

Sounds a little over the top, perhaps, but it is, in fact, the true-life story of the ingenious parasitic flatworm, Dicrocoelium dendriticum, which is found in increasing numbers in livestock and wildlife in the Cypress Hills region of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Exactly how this parasite has evolved to manipulate the ant to ensure it is eaten by a grazing animal has been a head scratcher for researchers.

Parasites have complex life cycles, living inside various host animals at different stages. Dicrocoelium's life cycle is particularly complicated. It starts life as a microscopic egg in the dung of a grazing mammal such as a cow or deer before infecting and multiplying in snails and being released in tiny slime balls. Ants love to eat these slime balls but when they do, they become infected with myriads of minuscule Dicrocoelium parasites that pass into the ant's abdomen. However, just one parasite leaves the group and migrates to the ant's brain, essentially turning the insect into a zombie it can control. This single "brain parasite" then commands the insect to climb to the tops of flowers so that a grazing animal will eat the ant along with the throng of other parasites hiding inside the ant's body.

Once inside, these peculiar parasites close the life cycle loop by migrating to the animal's liver, where they mature and reproduce, with their eggs being eventually pooped out in the grass to wait for another hungry snail to eat them.

https://phys.org/news/2020-03-evolution-life-parasitic-worm-zombie.html
 

ravensocks

Devoted Cultist
Joined
Oct 30, 2014
Messages
212
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasma gondii develops in cats, so infects mice and rats and changes their brains to make them lose their fear of cats. The poor rodent seeks out a cat, who promptly eats him and the cycle starts again.

there really usnt much known about the effects in humans. Seems to generally be seen as quite benign, although more people than you might expect are probably infected. There is some evidence put forward that it can cause an affection for cats (a la the poor doomed mice, above), so leading to the 'crazy cat lady' stereotype

I find this fascinating.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Toxoplasmosis/
 

ravensocks

Devoted Cultist
Joined
Oct 30, 2014
Messages
212
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasma gondii develops in cats, so infects mice and rats and changes their brains to make them lose their fear of cats. The poor rodent seeks out a cat, who promptly eats him and the cycle starts again.

there really usnt much known about the effects in humans. Seems to generally be seen as quite benign, although more people than you might expect are probably infected. There is some evidence put forward that it can cause an affection for cats (a la the poor doomed mice, above), so leading to the 'crazy cat lady' stereotype

I find this fascinating.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Toxoplasmosis/

Caveat: It seems relatively benign, unless you are pregnant. Pregnant ladies should stay away from cat poo*


* being a current cat slave and probably infected up the wazoo by T Gondii, I can recommend EVERYONE stay away from cat poo. Seriously, the military could use my cat for bio warfare. If she's in the litter box, it's best to clear out as soon as possible... There is only so long you can breathe through your mouth, then you realise the lining of your lungs have been stripped off by the infernal internal workings of your whiffy feline friend.
 

Bad Bungle

Tutti but not Frutti.
Joined
Oct 13, 2018
Messages
3,604
Location
The Chilterns
There has been speculation as to whether there are examples of human behaviour being manipulated by parasites for their exclusive benefit. Can't find the source but read that maybe certain types of 'flu virus cause the sufferer to be more restless and sociable - so instead of curling up under a duvet in dreary isolation, they are out clubbing and partying and thus spreading the virus.
 

pandacracker

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jan 16, 2004
Messages
1,469
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasma gondii develops in cats, so infects mice and rats and changes their brains to make them lose their fear of cats. The poor rodent seeks out a cat, who promptly eats him and the cycle starts again.

there really usnt much known about the effects in humans. Seems to generally be seen as quite benign, although more people than you might expect are probably infected. There is some evidence put forward that it can cause an affection for cats (a la the poor doomed mice, above), so leading to the 'crazy cat lady' stereotype

I find this fascinating.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Toxoplasmosis/

When I was involved with the Terrence Higgins Trust, back in the late '80s, toxoplasmosis was considered to be serious health risk for people with HIV.
 

escargot

Disciple of Marduk
Joined
Aug 24, 2001
Messages
38,621
Location
HM The Tower of London

ravensocks

Devoted Cultist
Joined
Oct 30, 2014
Messages
212
When I was involved with the Terrence Higgins Trust, back in the late '80s, toxoplasmosis was considered to be serious health risk for people with HIV.


Ahh, I didnt know that, thanks. There was a bit of a minor uk scare about it, once researchers realised how wide spread it probably was in the general population - but then nothing else really surfaced. I find it, and the way it affects mice fascinating.
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
27,735
Location
Out of Bounds
Here's a call to action I didn't see coming: "Save the Parasites!" ... :willy:

This new research article (in press) calls for attention to study and conservation of parasites. The rationale lies in the facts that (a) we know too little about parasites in general and (b) parasites often play critical roles in ecosystems.
Scientists Say We Need to Save The World's Parasites Before We Lose Them Forever

There are lots of animals that need conservation help. Cuddly creatures like pandas and koalas, or brainy beasts like whales and octopuses, just to name a few. But a team of scientists is urging us to not forget one particularly unlovable group that also needs our assistance: parasites.

Parasites, the team explains, have a bit of a PR problem. They're not just blood-sucking monsters, or freeloading fiends (which, don't get us wrong, they still are). As the team says, parasites also perform incredibly significant ecological roles.

Parasites influence the survival and reproduction of many host species, and form vital links across food chains. For example, they increase predatory birds' killifish kills by up to 30 times by messing with the fish's brains in a way that makes them more vulnerable to the birds. Alas, so many of these complicated interactions are unknown to us.

"Parasites are an incredibly diverse group of species, but as a society, we do not recognise this biological diversity as valuable," says ecologist Chelsea Wood from the University of Washington.

"The point of this paper is to emphasise that we are losing parasites and the functions they serve without even recognising it." ...

So next time you think of animals that need protecting, maybe spare a thought for the humble parasite. Or we might end up losing these creatures and any vital role they play within our ecosystems before we even discover what they are. ...

FULL STORY: https://www.sciencealert.com/myster...t-deaths-in-botswana-finally-comes-into-focus
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
27,735
Location
Out of Bounds
Here are the bibliographic details and abstract for the parasites conservation article cited above ...

A global parasite conservation plan
J.Carlson, Skylar Hopkins, Kayce C. Bell, Jorge Doña, Stephanie S. Godfrey, Mackenzie L. Kwak, Kevin D. Lafferty, Melinda L. Moir, Kelly A. Speer, Giovanni Strona, Mark Torchin, Chelsea L. Wood
Biological Conservation
Available online 1 August 2020, 108596
In Press

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108596

Highlights
•Parasite conservation is a rapidly growing field but needs coordinated priorities and metrics of success.
•We propose a global plan for parasite conservation over the next decade.
•Our proposal includes 12 ambitious goals broadly capturing conservation research, practice, and outreach.

Abstract
Found throughout the tree of life and in every ecosystem, parasites are some of the most diverse, ecologically important animals on Earth—but in almost all cases, the least protected by wildlife or ecosystem conservation efforts. For decades, ecologists have been calling for research to understand parasites' important ecological role, and increasingly, to protect as many species from extinction as possible. However, most conservationists still work within priority systems for funding and effort that exclude or ignore parasites, or treat parasites as an obstacle to be overcome. Our working group identified 12 goals for the next decade that could advance parasite biodiversity conservation through an ambitious mix of research, advocacy, and management.

SOURCE: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320719319937?via=ihub
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
47,556
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
Here's a call to action I didn't see coming: "Save the Parasites!" ... :willy:

This new research article (in press) calls for attention to study and conservation of parasites. The rationale lies in the facts that (a) we know too little about parasites in general and (b) parasites often play critical roles in ecosystems.

FULL STORY: https://www.sciencealert.com/myster...t-deaths-in-botswana-finally-comes-into-focus
I've met a few parasites. I refuse to believe they play critical roles in ecosystems.
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
27,735
Location
Out of Bounds
Some parasites that f**k up fauna are flora ...
How a parasitic fungus turns ants into 'zombies'

The deadly parasite’s grand finale involves sending toxic spores blooming from the dead ant’s head.

THEY WALK AMONG us: insects hijacked by parasitic fungi that control their every move.

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus has just one goal: self-propagation and dispersal. Researchers think the fungus, found in tropical forests, infects a foraging ant through spores that attach and penetrate the exoskeleton and slowly takes over its behavior.

As the infection advances, the enthralled ant is compelled to leave its nest for a more humid microclimate that’s favorable to the fungus’s growth. The ant is compelled to descend to a vantage point about 10 inches off the ground, sink its jaws into a leaf vein on the north side of a plant, and wait for death.

Meanwhile, the fungus feeds on its victim’s innards until it’s ready for the final stage. Several days after the ant has died, the fungus sends a fruiting body out through the base of the ant’s head, turning its shriveled corpse into a launchpad from which it can jettison its spores and infect new ants. ...

FULL STORY: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/04/cordyceps-zombie-fungus-takes-over-ants/
 

Nemo

Go away, leave me alone, nemo is home
Joined
May 10, 2006
Messages
1,260
Scientists find two new species of fungi that turn flies into 'zombies'


Insect-destroying fungi ‘may represent the next frontier for drug discovery’
Spores of the parasitic fungus Strongwellsea acerosa, which are discharged from holes in the abdomens of living insects.

Spores of the parasitic fungus Strongwellsea acerosa. Infected hosts continue to function for days. Photograph: Faculty of Science/University of Copenhagen


Two new fungi species that infect flies and eject spores out of a large hole in the insect’s abdomen “like small rockets” have been discovered in Denmark.

The new species, Strongwellsea tigrinae and Strongwellsea acerosa, are host-specific and rely on two species of Danish fly – Coenosia tigrina and Coenosia testacea, according to researchers at the University of Copenhagen.

While most fungi spore once the host is dead, with strongwellsea, the host continues to live for days, carrying out normal activities and socialising with other flies while the fungus consumes its genitals, fat reserves, reproductive organs and finally its muscle, all the while shooting out thousands of spores on to other individuals.
After a few days, the fly lies on its back, spasms for a few hours and then dies, according to research by the University of Copenhagen and the Natural History Museum of Denmark published in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.
The unusual tactic of keeping the host alive while releasing spores is called active host transmission (AHT). It is an effective way of getting access to other healthy individuals. Scientists think the fungi could be producing substances that “dope” their hosts (sometimes colloquially referred to as “zombies”), meaning they can stay fresh enough to live for days after infection – only collapsing once there is nothing left in their abdomens but the fungus.

(c) The Guardian. '20
 

AnonyJ

Captainess Sensible
Joined
Nov 1, 2015
Messages
1,405
Location
Having-a-nice-cup-of-tea-and-a-sit-down-shire
There is a minute parasitic wasp that predates on aphids (greenfly); being a keen gardener I am always a bit happier when I spot the moribund peachy-coloured 'zombie mummy aphid' amongst its greener kin in my plastic growhouse, it indicates a kind of bio-balance going on. The wasp dessicates the body of the aphid and emerges from the mummified body to carry on doing its waspy thing.


https://www.soybeanresearchinfo.com/pests/aphidpics/aphid_bino_emerging_mn.jpg
 
Top