A Bogleech special guest post by:

Written by Nathan Yaussy

   Parasites get a bit of a bum rap. I suppose if anyone needs told that, it’s not the people who regularly read Bogleech. People who have no problem talking about the “raw natural beauty” of a tiger eating a deer will cringe when thinking about a tick doing the same thing in slow motion. Half of getting a species listed as endangered is getting the right people to agree that this species is worth saving. What follows is a few parasites that have managed to beat the system and find their way onto an endangered species list.

Wartyback Mussel (Quadrula nodulata)

   I have to be honest, out of all the endangered freshwater mussels living in the United States, I picked the Wartyback Mussel by sheer virtue of its weird name. It lives like most mussels, buried siphon-deep in the mud, filtering organic debris out of the rivers in which it lives. Jonathan already wrote a wonderful article on glochidia, detailing the odd parasitic larval stage that helps move an otherwise sedentary animal upstream. Because they filter so much water, pollution is the major problem facing freshwater mussels. Breeding programs have extra steps when dealing with mussels, since they need to catch and parasitize fish and then release them. The fish likely swim away wondering what on earth just happened to them.

Underground Orchid (Rhizanthella gardneri)

   While many orchids are parasitic—living as the botanical equivalent of a louse—they produce pretty flowers, so no one thinks twice about trying to save them. The Underground Orchid’s lifestyle is not much different, except for the fact that it looks like a root with a tumor. Instead of using chlorophyll, it gets its energy and nutrients from its host tree, the Broom Honey Myrtle. These trees are being cleared to make way for agriculture, leading to a decline in the Underground Orchid’s numbers. People are also attributing a decrease in health of the myrtle to a decrease in the numbers of the orchid. Orchid fanciers, who find challenge and rarity more important than beauty, are also working on finding a way to breed these root-flowers in captivity.

Cayman Islands Land Crab Fly (Drosophila endobranchia)

   This fly (with no real common name) is completely attached to the Cayman Island land crabs from birth. The eggs are laid around the eye of the crab. Once hatched, the larvae make their way to the gills, where they have a veritable feast on the microorganisms living there. Afterwards, they wander to the mouth, where they will grab whatever bits of food they can from the crab. When they’ve had their fill, they fall to the ground and pupate. Don’t think they’ve left the crabs alone, though, because, after pupating, they hitch rides on the crab’s backs until they lay the eggs. While I didn’t see them on any endangered species list, the small size of their habitat is frequently being taken over by resorts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if their numbers were dwindling.

Please note the little white, seed-looking things around the crab's eye. Those are the eggs.

Pygmy Hog-sucking Louse (Haematopinus oliveri)

   This is not a Pygmy Hog-Sucking Louse; I couldn’t find any pictures. It’s just a common hog louse. If I hadn’t said anything, would you have known the difference? This is louse that sucks Pygmy Hogs, not a pygmy louse that sucks hogs, because who would call a nearly-microscopic animal “pygmy”? They live normal, lousy lives (hanging on to hair and sucking the blood that springs eternal from the ground) but suffer from habitat destruction. What else would you call it when a parasite’s only host is disappearing? The Pygmy Hog lives in Indian savannahs, they build/dig a type of nest that make the transfer of various ectoparisites that much easier. Since the pygmy hogs are dying out due to habitat destruction, so are the lice. The simple fact that people are now (within the last few years) worrying about parasite conservation is about all I can ask for. Science magazine reported in 2004 that, based on average parasite levels, there are approximately 6,300 coendangered species that don’t appear on any list. I suppose the easiest conservation method is to save their hosts. And watch out for the little guys.

Ohio Lamprey (Icthyomyzon bdellium)

   This beauty struck something deep in my heart that I immediately made it the mascot of Endangered Ugly Things. This fish is native to streams and rivers in the eastern Midwest (or western East) states. In its two years as an adult it sucks onto other fish with its gaping maw (also known as an oral disc) where it proceeds to suck the host’s blood. Before the parasitic adult stage, baby lamprey (now isn’t that an adorable mental image?) spend four years buried in the riffles of small streams with their heads poking out, filter feeding on algae and plankton. Dams stop them from being able to move to their feeding grounds as adults. The entrance of more silt in the streams, usually from runoff, gives the juveniles problems with filter feeding. Sampling is hard due to their habits of being either buried in a stream or a fish for five-sixths of their life. Getting people interested in them is the first step toward saving them, so I’m trying to do my part.

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