Parasites Can Affect Innate Behaviors of Their Hosts

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A recent study in the Journal of Parasitology was conducted to determine if cricket behavior was affected by exposure to the horsehair worm parasite. The researchers concluded that the introduction of the parasite changed cricket calling behavior.

PARA 101.4

Volume 101, Issue 4 (August 2015)

Overall, a pattern was observed in which crickets spent less time calling if they were infected. This finding shows that even if infection did not stop calling altogether, it did have a general consequence for cricket behavior.

Journal of Parasitology – In the article “Calling behavior of male Acheta domesticus crickets infected with Paragordius varius (Nematomorpha: Gordiida),” published in the Journal of Parasitology, a study was conducted to determine at which stage of a cricket’s life cycle the introduction of a parasite would affect calling behaviors.

The parasite–host relationship is complex. For the parasite to survive, it must manipulate certain innate behaviors of its host, such as the calling behavior in the male cricket. Calling (or chirping) is a part the cricket’s natural tendency, which is developed at different stages of its life. However, this behavior is dangerous and can attract predators and other parasites, thereby creating an unsafe environment for an existing parasite to reach maturity.

Two trials were conducted in which male crickets were exposed to the horsehair worm parasite. In trial 1, exposure occurred between 1 and 3 days after the crickets developed wings. In trial 2, they were exposed between 6 and 8 days before wing development.

The study showed that when crickets were infected with the parasite after they had developed wings, those that were noncallers did not become callers. However, when they were infected prior to wing development, noncallers became callers. Overall, a pattern was observed in which crickets spent less time calling if they were infected. This finding shows that even if infection did not stop calling altogether, it did have a general consequence for cricket behavior.

This is the first study to show that parasite infections can affect the calling behavior of their insect host. However, it is yet to be determined which behaviors are actual side effects of infection. The full impact of variables such as wing development, female cricket interaction, and proper nutrition will likely be determined by future studies.

Full text of the article, “Calling behavior of male Acheta domesticus crickets infected with Paragordius varius (Nematomorpha: Gordiida),” Journal of Parasitology, Vol. 101, No. 4, 2015, is available at http://www.journalofparasitology.org/doi/full/10.1645/15-765.1.

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About the Journal of Parasitology

The Journal of Parasitology is the official journal of the American Society of Parasitologists (ASP). The journal reports on all aspects of animal and human parasites, and is widely recognized for publishing content that has a long-term impact on the field of parasitology. The journal is intended for all with interests in basic or applied aspects of general, veterinary, medical parasitology, and epidemiology. For more information, visit http://www.journalofparasitology.org.

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Jacob Frese
Allen Press, Inc.
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