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Simpson Street Free Press

Parasite Manipulation Alters Gray Wolf Behavior

There is a parasite called “Toxoplasma gondii” that changes the behaviors of gray wolves. The infected wolves make bolder decisions compared to the uninfected ones. Infected wolves are more prone to taking risks, and therefore there is a higher chance that they will leave their pack, create their own, or kill other wolves.

Research revealed that these parasites can negatively alter the wolves’ fate. For example, wolves leaving their pack or becoming leaders can cause them to starve or fight other wolves more frequently.

After analyzing 26 years' worth of data from 299 wolves in Yellowstone National Park, researchers have found that the cougar is also at high risk of contracting Toxoplasma gondii. It is believed that a feedback loop has been created in which infected wolves lead members of their pack into areas where cougars reside and therefore get more wolves infected. However, more research is needed to confirm this phenomenon. It was also determined that this parasite can control other smaller animals like mice.

More research is necessary to help scientists determine the effects of this parasite, in particular its impact on a wolf’s capability to survive, be a leader, and be a parent.

[Source: Science News Explores]

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