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Parasitic Bullies

Posted on March 10, 2016 by in The OFI Blog

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Parasites. These organisms have existed for eons and have never ceased to be creepy, crawly bullies. In the case of the East Coast mud crabs, parasites have literally taken over their lives. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) Fellow Carolyn Tepolt’s research on what she has coined “Zombie Crabs,” provides fascinating information on this environmental phenomena.

In her article in onEarth: The Magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Telpolt explains how tiny East Coast mud crabs are essentially infected and taken over by the parasitic barnacle Loxothylacus panopaei, also known as Loxo for short. According to Tepolt, when the Loxo parasite infects a mud crab that has recently molted, it takes over the crab’s entire nervous system making separation impossible.

A female Loxo parasite then creates a sac at the base of the mud crab which a male Loxo then comes along and fertilizes. Once this happens the mud crab then becomes infertile, doomed to spend the remainder of its life protecting the egg sac of the parasites that infected it. See? The Loxo parasite is a creepy, crawly bully! For more information regarding Carolyn Tepolt’s research on the Loxo parasites and how they have effected the mud crabs of the East Coast, click here.