This last week has had a lot of thrills if you love parasites as much as I do! Discovering a new subfamily, genus and species of parasite would make any biologist crap in their pants out of joy! Although most people know me as a crocodilian parasitologist (just coined up the term!), I have also meddled my hands in snake parasites, particularly that of Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus. Over a year ago my boyfriend and I (yes I know… “soooo cute!) began a side project looking at anthropogenic and military testing impact on parasitism in this crotalid species in the southwest population of Arizona. Who would have known examining the ecology and parasitology of this predator would present some amazing scientific discoveries! Now, I don’t want to give everything away just yet as we still need to look at the parasites of another snake population for comparison, but us humans need to really start considering how much we effect the environment and wildlife. Remember the Lion King??? “It’s the Circle of Life!!!” Simply that song is stating that we are all connected! So studying this host-parasite system in this desert ecosystem of an apex predator will be a great indicator of how stable the ecosystem really is. Ok- back to the parasites…
So after months of going through research and key identifications, I have pinned downed the snake parasites, known as acanthocephalans (thorny-headed parasites) to the Family Plagiorhynchidae. Ok- I must say something on acanthocephalan biology real quick. One, they will fight to the death for the female! Its not about space, its all about mating for them and those that have the biggest testicular size usually wins. Also, after mating they will plug the females with a secretion that will prevent females being fertilized by other males. ALSO, males will rape other males- males will secrete their cement solution in other males to prevent them from mating. Hmm, is that an acanthocephalan style of Lorena Bobbitt? Anyways, there is a subfamily within this family that is known to parasitize snakes, HOWEVER, “my parasites” have mix features of the three subfamilies. Very exciting… so what do I name them? Well, looks like my boyfriend will get a parasite named after him- not my choice but his!
So new snake parasite species and also new croc nematode species!!!! Also looks like I identified a parasite that’s never been described in a Central American crocodile!!!! Yes- it has been an exciting week! And of course I couldn’t do it with the help of my undergrad assistants!!!! They are freaking awesome and many of them don’t realize it but they are becoming excellent parasitologists. They have been absolutely essential in the prepping and identification of these parasites, many of them being superb identifiers of families, genera ,etc. I hope my love of parasitism is rubbing off on them (evil laugh!)
Ok- time for a plug in:
If any of you are interested in snake venom, check out project about the man who is soon to have a parasite named after him. As humans continue to sprawl out into the habitat of these animals, whether it is for urbanization or relaxation, its really important to learn about the variation of rattlesnake venom. It could be life-saving!!! And who knows, maybe Chip will find something in the venom that will be applicable for other medicinal purposes. Check it out!!!! (and he isn’t that bad looking either ;p )
Also, my new video will be up within the next day, but don’t forget to check out my site…any contributions to the discovery of alligator parasitism is great appreciated!!!