Mind-controlling parasites (and the parasites that infect them)

A great, full-body-squick-inducing article in National Geographic provides an overview of the current research on parasites that use a combination of techniques to control their hosts' behavior, making them sacrifice themselves for the sake of the parasites and their offspring.

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Anti-bedbug luggage uses heating elements to bake your stuff

Thermalstrike's heated luggage has plug-in elements that heat the contents of your bag to 140F before you unpack them, which should theoretically kill any bedbugs that hitched a ride home with you from the road (remember to take out your toiletries and electronics first!).

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Crowdfunded mosquito-confusing patch to be sent to Uganda


The Kite Patch is the subject of a very successful Indiegogo fundraiser, and holds the promise of a lasting peace between mosquitoes and humans. It bears a compound designed by UC Riverside entomologist Anandasankar Ray that confuses mosquitoes' ability to track and follow concentration gradients of CO2, which is how they locate humans. However, the product couldn't be marketed in the USA without further testing, hence the crowdfunding campaign, which will send thousands of patches to Uganda, where they will be used as part of a wider trial in fighting malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. The actual nature of the compound is confusing: the Wired article describes it as both "toxic" and "nontoxic" and the crowdfunding FAQ calls it "nontoxic."

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Cat poo parasite a "vast and underappreciated" public health problem

Tracy Miller, New York Daily News: "Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, can cause health problems in anyone, not just pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, researchers warn in a newly published paper."

Video game lets you kill the most scientifically accurate zombies yet

The Last of Us is a new video game about the zombie apocalypse. But not just any zombie apocalypse. The Last of Us zombies are based heavily, and accurately, on a genus of parasitic fungus that really does take over the brains and bodies of non-human animals like tarantulas and ants. Kyle Hill has a lot of delightfully horrifying things to tell you about this fungus at the Overthinking It blog.

Parasitic wasp sanitizes its victims from the inside out

So, the downside is that you are being eaten alive, from the inside out, by a wasp larva. On the plus side, though, at least it has the courtesy to disinfect you as it goes along. At Nature News you can watch a baby cockroach wasp burrows around through the insides of an American cockroach, leaving a trail of clear, liquid anti-microbials in its wake.

Meet your face mites!

"Everything you never wanted to know about the mites that eat, crawl, and have sex on your face". How can you say, "No", to that headline?

Ed Yong has a great post up today at Not Exactly Rocket Science about Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis, two species of mites which spend their entire lives on human skin. Humans aren't born with these mites. But by the time you are 40 years old, it's almost guaranteed that you are playing host to a few of them.

The bad news: They are having sex on your face.

Their favourite hook-up spots are the rims of your hair follicles. After sex, the female buries into the follicle (if it’s D.folliculorum), or into a nearby sebaceous gland (if it’s D.brevis). Half a day later, she lays her eggs. Two and a half days later, they hatch. The young mites take six days to reach adulthood, and they live for around five more. Their entire lives play out over the course of two weeks.

The good news: They don't poop—in fact, they don't even have an anus.

The bad news again: All that waste just builds up in their bodies. Demodex are, by nature, chronically constipated. Only after they die, and their bodies disintegrate, do they finally get to let it all go. All over your face.

Read the rest of Ed Yong's piece

Meet the pentastome

At the Thoughtomics blog, Lucas Brouwers has a really nifty post on a recent discovery about the biology of pentastomes. What's a pentastome? Oh, I am SO glad that you asked.

Every animal has its own parasites to worry about, but canivorous reptiles and amphibians have to deal with particularly gruesome ones. They can become infected with small, worm-like creatures called pentastomes that live inside their lungs, where they suck blood from ruptured blood vessels. Reptiles pick up the parasite when they eat infected prey.

Pentastomes are true escape artists. Once they realize they’ve entered a reptile stomach, they use their sharp hooks to claw themselves a way to the victim’s lungs. In an experiment where pentastomes were implanted in a gecko’s stomach, the parasites invaded the lungs in as little as four hours.

Fun!

BTW: The image above, of a pentastome called Kiricephalus coarctatus, comes from a student page on the life and pests of the Western Cottonmouth snake. It's worth poking around that site, too.