Many parasites with complex life cycles are known to modify their host phenotype to enhance transmission from the intermediate host to the definitive host. Several earlier studies explored these effects in acanthocephalan and trematode parasites, especially in aquatic ecosystems; however, much less is known about parasite-mediated alterations of host behavior in terrestrial systems involving nematodes. Here, we address this gap by investigating a trophically transmitted nematode (Pterygodermatites peromysci) that uses a camel cricket (Ceuthophilus pallidipes) as the intermediate host before transmission to the final host, the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). In a laboratory experiment, we quantified the anti-predatory responses of the cricket intermediate host using simulated predator cues. Results showed a decrease in jumping performance among infected crickets as compared with uninfected crickets, specifically in terms of frequency of jumps and jumping distance. Additionally, the relationship between parasite load and frequency of jumps is negatively correlated with the intensity of infection. These behavioral modifications are likely to increase vulnerability to predation by the definitive host. An analysis of the age-intensity pattern of infection in natural cricket populations appears to support this hypothesis: parasites accumulate with age, peak at an intermediate age class before the intensity of infection decreases in older age groups. We suggest that older, heavily infected crickets are preferentially removed from the population by predators because of increased vulnerability. These results show that cricket intermediate hosts infected with P. peromysci have diminished jumping performance, which is likely to impair their anti-predatory behavior and potentially facilitate parasite transmission.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics