March 31, 2010
March 31 - Spinochordodes tellinii
Ever seen a grasshopper jump into a pool? Probably not. The reason is normal, healthy individuals would never take a dive to almost certain death. Spindochordodes tellinii on the other hand, has different intentions. This parasitic nematomorph hairworm is able to override the grasshopper’s instinct to stay out of water. Spindochordodes tellinii larvae are consumed by grasshoppers or crickets and develop inside their hosts. The hairworm can grow to enormous lengths yet allow the grasshopper or cricket to stay alive. The exact process S. tellinii uses to manipulate its host is still largely unknown. We do know that the parasite produces proteins that affect the central nervous system and that infected grasshoppers/crickets also produce different proteins in their brains which healthy individuals do not. Mature adult S. tellinii use their abilities to force their host to jump into some body of water allowing the parasite to escape to find a mate. Understanding how parasites can manipulate behaviors of other organisms may help us to further understand human behavior-system links.
See: Bhattacharya, S. 2005. Parasites brainwash grasshoppers into death dive.
Contributed by Zander Crawford, Bucknell University.