Wolves Infected by Notorious Mind-Altering Parasite

Dec, 2022 - By SMI

Wolves Infected by Notorious Mind-Altering Parasite

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii increases a wolf's likelihood of becoming a pack leader by 46 times, according to a study of 229 wolves' blood and 26 years' worth of behavioural data on wolves.

The study reveals that the impact of this parasite on ecosystems and animal behaviour has been grossly understudied as well as its significance.

You've probably heard of this parasite before if you own a cat. The microscopic organism can infect and thrive in nearly all warm-blooded animals, but it can only reproduce in the bodies of felines.

This includes people, where it can result in toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that typically has no symptoms but is still potentially fatal.

Individual T. gondii parasites must discover a way to return their progeny to cats once they have been transferred to another host in order to avoid reaching an evolutionary dead end. Additionally, it maximises its chances in a somewhat unsettling manner.

Rats that have the parasite begin to take more risks and, in some cases, even develop a fatal attraction to the smell of cat urine, making them more likely to be killed by them.

For larger animals like chimpanzees, it means a higher chance of coming into contact with a larger cat like a leopard. Additionally, T. gondii-infected hyenas are more likely to be killed by lions.

In the Yellowstone National Park, grey wolves (Canis lupus) aren't exactly cat prey. However, occasionally their range overlaps with that of cougars (Puma concolor), which are known to be T. gondii carriers. The two species also share a predation relationship with nearby elk, bison, and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus).

Wolves may contract the disease as well, perhaps from occasionally eating dead cougars or consuming cougar poop.

A once-in-a-lifetime chance to examine the parasite's effects on a wild, intermediate host was provided by data gathered on the wolves and their behaviour over the course of nearly 27 years.

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