12 Interesting Facts About Parasites
When you hear the word parasite do you think of a hideous creepy-crawly with too many eyes and legs, that feeds off another creature? You may be partially right, but did you know, for example, that not all parasites are bad? In fact, some parasites can be good for their host’s health. Read on to find out more about these little critters.
1. Parasites are the most common form of life on Earth, making up over 80% of all living things.
2. The earliest known human parasite is a lung fluke, and it was found in fossilised faeces in northern Chile dating from 5900 BC.
3. Maggots are sometimes used in medicine to clean up infected tissue around wounds that aren’t healing well. They only eat dead skin and tissue so they get rid of the diseased part, and often save a limb or body part from being amputated.
4. You almost certainly have creatures living on your face. They’re called Demodex mites, and they feed on dead skin cells and oil from sebaceous glands.
5. Found in the Amazon, the vampire fish, or Candiru, can swim up a urine stream into a human’s urethra, where it then feeds on blood. Only surgery can remove it as it lodges itself in position with a sharp spine.
6. Like humans and other animals, fish suffer from parasites. but they have some help in the form of the Cleaner Wrasse – a small tropical fish that eats the parasites off the skin of bigger fish.
7. Apes and monkeys spend hours grooming each other to remove parasites. Researchers believe that the behaviour is important for both hygiene and social bonding.
8. One of the world’s deadliest parasites is the mosquito, but only certain species, and only female mosquitos of those species, can transmit malaria.
9. Plants can be parasites too. Found in southeastern Asia, the Rafflesia plant lives inside tropical trees, and is the largest flowering plant in the world. It’s flowers look and smell like rotting flesh, and locals refer to it as ‘corpse flower’.
10. Tapeworms live in your intestines, absorbing nutrients from partially digested food as it passes through your body. Infections are rare, but in human hosts tapeworms have been reported to grow up to 30 feet long.
11. Some scientists now believe that intestinal parasites could be good for us, activating our immune systems and preventing disorders caused by inflammation of the intestines.
12. Once an ant has been sprinkled with its spores, the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis or ‘Zombie Ant Fungus’ begins to infect the ant’s brain, directing it to climb to a higher position. Eventually, the parasite’s large stalk erupts through the back of the ant’s head and its spores burst from the tip, dispersing to the jungle floor and beginning the cycle over again with more ants.
The microscopic parasites mentioned above can all be seen clearly under a microscope.