Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Parasites of the Marine World (1 of 2)

The deep ocean harbors a multitude of diversity. It is full of lifeforms of all kinds of exotic shapes and sizes, which really should be unsurprising to us, as life originated from the sea. The complexity is wondrous, and it is all driven by a network of global currents called "the grand conveyor." Organisms here employ a wide array of strategies to survive. Some ocean fauna, like whales, grow to immense sizes to avoid predation and to feast on smaller organisms. Some organisms form large armadas (called schools) to lay siege to habitats like coral reefs; these armadas all work together to nab unsuspecting prey. In the same way, some creatures exhibit cross species co-operation, a synergistic relationship that allow both animals to survive comfortably.

Then, there are the parasitic organisms. These are some of my favorite forms of life. Some fans here may recall a few articles in the past we covered on various kinds of these creatures on land, like the tarantula hawk, or "zombie snails or zombie ants". This time I am going to bring you into the bizarre world of marine parasites.

The first genus I would like to discuss is called Sacculina: the genus of barnacles that are parasitic castrators of crabs! You might be asking yourself (with an uneasy feeling inside), what exactly is a parasitic castrator? Well, there is no easy what to say this, but it literally injects itself into the crustacean, takes over the behavior of the crab, destroys its genitals, and begins a large egg sac growth in the destroyed region, mimicking the crabs eggs itself. Due to the behavior modification of the parasite, the crab thinks it is its very own eggs, even if it is a male crab. It will look after them in the same fashion, and acts like a female would in every way.

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