As you are reading this I am most likely on a plane heading to Ontario for a few days. As you may know, when I am away I like to create a theme for Wild Facts so from now until next Thursday we are going to be looking at Parasites. I know, I know, ewwwwww! I am not going to lie to you there will be some gross animals in the next week but I will promise you that they are all very fascinating. My favourite aspect of parasites is the impact they have on the host which is why I wanted to start out with the Nematomorpha, also known as Horsehair Worms, which really mess with their gracious hosts life.
Horsehair Worms range in size but the majority are about 50 to 100 cm (20-39″) long. In some crazy cases this parasite has been able to get as long as 2 m (6′) which just boggles my mind. You can usually find the Horsehair Worms in puddles, watering troughs, streams and other damp areas. We don’t need to worry about this particular parasite since they usually attach themselves to cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers and even crustaceans. Only the larvae (juvenile stage) are parasitic while the adult worms are free living.
I mentioned that they cause their host to do some crazy things and I meant it. A study conducted determined that the Horsehair worm will manipulate their grasshopper host into thinking it is a good idea for them to jump in the water. This parasitic worm will develop inside of the land-dwelling grasshopper and when it becomes time for the larvae to emerge as an adult it will “brainwash” the grasshopper into committing suicide by jumping into a stream or other water body. Around this time the long Horsehair Worm will exit its host and just leave the grasshopper there to die. Talk about ungracious company! I would hate to entertain these guys. They could have at least stuck around to help clean up the mess. Below is a short clip which shows this process. A poor helpless cricket falls victim to the deadly Horsehair Worm.
That does it for Day 1 of Parasite Week. Check back tomorrow for a parasite that can create slaves!
Here is that video: