First of all I want to thank all of you for coming back to witness another interesting parasite. On this beautiful Friday (I know it is beautiful since I will be on vacation fishing in Northern Ontario) we are going to look at the Liver Fluke. These diverse little parasites like live in snails, ants and mammals such as cattle and sheep.
That stuff is all interesting but I want to talk about the impact these little parasites have on one of the most intriguing insects (in my opinion), ants. You see these little guys can completely disrupt the social structure of many ant colonies. I guess I should slow down and tell you how the Liver Fluke, Ants and Mammals are all connected in this chain. Well it starts when the eggs are swept out of the mammal host (I guess we could have the “chicken or the egg” argument here but to save time we will say it starts with the eggs) through their feces. At this point a free-swimming parasite emerges and penetrates the tissues of a suitable snail. Man, one more animal is impacted by these little guys. The snail is just an intermediate host to allow the parasite to multiply. This is not the type of messenger job I would apply for. At this point a more developed stage of the parasite exits the snail and rests on aquatic vegetation. This vegetation will be consumed by grazing herbivores and the whole process starts over. Now you are probably wondering where the Ants play in all of this. Well the slime that an infected snail leaves behind is full of these developed parasites. Ants will collect this slime and bring it home for everyone to eat. Who knew that ants will eat the slime of a snail…ewwwww!
The fun begins once the ants ingest the parasite. I am actually going to keep you in suspense with this. I want you to watch the National Geographic video below as it beautifully describes how this parasite manipulates the ants for their own benefit. I know it seems like I am just shirking my responsibility but who wants to read another paragraph on a Friday anyways. Enjoy the clip and have a great weekend!