Why do we collect parasites?
Why do we collect parasites? Pickled parasites in the vast collections of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which are now managed by the Smithsonian. (Photo bottom left): Parasitic horsehair (Nematomorpha) (National Museum of Natural History/Anna Phillips)
Why do we collect parasites?
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Who would keep a collection of parasites?
 
Believe it or not, the United States government has been collecting parasites for a hundred years. The collection recently was acquired by the Smithsonian. It now numbers more than 20 million parasites. We keep parasites because they are a priority for research related to our well-being.

Parasites cause many diseases. Endoparasites, which can live inside your body, include flatworms such as tapeworms or flukes, as well as tiny animals of various types that cause infections. Even parasites that live on the surface of your body (ectoparasites) may cause infections by giving rides to other organisms.  Ticks give rides to Lyme disease bacteria, which cause as many as 25,000 infections per year in the U.S. alone.
 
Ironically, parasites are also used for medical treatments. Thanks to natural anticoagulants in their spit, leeches can keep blood flowing into reattached body parts that have been severed in accidents.

However, the importance of parasites goes way beyond their roles in disease. Research on parasites has been led by medical concerns, but parasites are also players to be reckoned with in the ecosystems we depend on. Recent studies along the California coast and elsewhere have revealed that the biomass (weight) of all the parasites in an ecosystem may be higher than the biomass of all the top predators. While parasites tend to be small, there are lots and lots of them around!

By definition, a parasite lives in or on a "host," whether a plant, a mammal like a human, or other animals like crabs. Parasites take resources from their hosts without giving back. They usually don't kill their hosts. Like bad house guests, they may affect how their hosts behave. The close linkage they have with hosts makes parasites relevant for how entire ecosystems function and respond to change. Parasites are too prevalent to be ignored.
 
Learn about how scientists use museum collections to study the many associations between parasites and their hosts. Watch the live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast on Thursday, May 19, 2016. It is titled, "Living Together: Parasites and Hosts" (airs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website). Parasitologist Dr. Anna Phillips will discuss and answer questions live from the National Museum of Natural History. Get teaching resources to use with the webcast.

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween78/why-do-we-collect-parasites/

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can tiny parasites outweigh predators?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (19)
  • jordanr-Orv
    5/16/2016 - 01:17 p.m.

    parasites can multiply very quickly and can destroy something from the inside

  • avab-4-bar
    5/18/2016 - 02:58 p.m.

    Tiny parasites can outweigh predators because their are so many of them,Even though predators are usually the biggest animals, parasites have thousands of themselves, many living in the predators themselves.

    I found this article interesting because I always found it odd that some people and doctors/scientist keep the parasites found.

  • vincents-1-bar
    5/18/2016 - 07:22 p.m.

    The tiny parasites can "outweigh" predators, as stated by the article, because the biosphere can accommodate for so many more of them. For example, in every ecosystem, a delicate balance of energy transference is necessary to maintain the environment. The small parasites, such as leeches and tapeworms, can live in massive numbers off of relatively few hosts. As a result, their carrying capacity is larger because each organism consumes little resources. Thus, the ecosystem can carry many more parasites than predators. It is interesting how these parasites, despite surviving by attacking other organisms, can help humans. Between medical uses and studies (such as in the case of leeches) and maintaining the world's biosphere, the parasites inadvertently help (as well as harm) other populations.

  • sebastianr-6-bar
    5/19/2016 - 01:13 a.m.

    Tiny parasites can outweigh predators because there are so many of them. In paragraph five it says that, "...the biomass (weight) of all the parasites in an ecosystem may be higher than the biomass of all the top predators." This quote proves that the effectiveness of the parasites comes from there large numbers. I think this article is very interning because I found out a few things that I didn't know, for example, that the government has been holding onto parasites for hundreds of years and that parasites can be more effective than predators.

  • nicholasl-2-bar
    5/19/2016 - 10:40 p.m.

    Tiny parasites can outweigh predators because they're too small to be noticed. This allows them to have the advantage against them. Also, parasites may be large in numbers, so they can overpower a large predator easily. I like this article because it talked about parasites. I was surprised that parasites can help people too.






    ????

  • brianag-6-bar
    5/20/2016 - 01:34 a.m.

    Tiny parasites can outweigh predators because their is such an access amount of them. "Recent studies along the California coast and elsewhere have revealed that the biomass of all the parasites in an ecosystem may be higher than the biomass of all the top predators." This article surprised me because I didn't think there would be that many parasites in an ecosystem that they could be able to outweigh top predators.

  • sofiat-4-bar
    5/27/2016 - 12:28 a.m.

    Tiny parasites can outweigh predators because they can easily get inside the immune system and inside the body. These parasites carry diseases and can kill anyone or anything they crawl into "Parasites cause many diseases. Endoparasites, which can live inside your body, include flatworms such as tapeworms or flukes, as well as tiny animals of various types that cause infections. " i find this very interesting because now they are trying to find ways to prevent these parasites.

  • elijahb-6-bar
    6/09/2016 - 03:28 p.m.

    It states "While parasites tend to be small, there are lots and lots of them around"! Its pretty interesting that the government has been collecting parasites for hundreds of years and how parasites can outweigh a predator.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    6/13/2016 - 03:11 p.m.

    There are many parasites living in this world. Some can live on your body and others can live in your body. The ones that live in your body are called endoparasites and the ones that live on your body are called ectoparasites. They can take nutrients from a host's body and harm them and usually don't kill them. Although parasites can harm people, they can also be used for medical purposes. For example, leeches can help keep the blood flowing for body parts that were severed. The government keeps around twenty million parasites to study them. Museums also collect parasites to research on them more.
    Tiny parasites can outweigh predators because there are thousands of parasites. Even though they are small, they have more numbers.

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