Anyone who studies or has studied Biology is familiar with the classic interactions between different groups of species. Mutualism is when two species beneficially help one another, commensalism is when one species benefits and the other is unharmed, and competition is when both species are negatively impacted due to the competition for resources. All of these show a clear relationship between the two organisms, except for, in my perspective, the most interesting and complicated of them all: parasitism. In this situation, one species benefits and one species is (usually) very badly harmed but often not harmed enough to die. How a relationship like this could have evolved over millennia is so fascinating. How much trial and error (and death) were involved in order to get these goldilocks relationships is a modern marvel of evolution.
You are likely familiar with many different parasites (ticks, mosquitoes, bedbugs, lice, ringworm, etc.) and have probably been infected with or by one from that list. When I wrote this post, I definitely got the heebie jeebies, from these creepy crawlies. Luckily for us, we are blessed to be alive at the same time as science writer, Ed Yong, who has taken a very keen interest in the study of parasites.
Yong has been a favorite science writer (mostly on Twitter) over the course of the last 18 months due to his coverage of the pandemic for the news magazine, The Atlantic. His accuracy in reporting and humor in storytelling have helped me cope with the realities of our ongoing crisis. However, I mention him here because as a writer his interest in science journalism began with the fascinating world of parasites. I recently remembered this awesome TED Talk he gave a few years ago about this very subject:
If you are like me, and are bizarrely curious about the what the world of parasitism has in store, there are several options available for adults and kids here in the library system.
- Plight of the living dead : what the animal kingdom’s real-life zombies reveal about nature — and ourselves by Matt Simon.
- This is your brain on parasites : how tiny creatures manipulate our behavior and shape society by Kathleen McAuliffe.
- Animal zombies! : and other bloodsucking beasts, creepy creatures, and real-life monsters by Chana Steifel.
- Zombies in nature by Kirsten W. Larson.
E.O. Wilson, a renowned entomologist known for his studies on nature, once described parasites as “predators that eat prey in units of less than one.” Regardless of how you might like to characterize them in science-y terms, I hope you consider diving in to learn more about this fascinating world of parasites.