One of the things that keeps us all from being eaten by powerful predators is their fear of humans. Of course, this isn’t the case in larger predators, like lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), but most small predators would rather not deal with us humans if they don’t have to.
Unfortunately for the longevity of the human race, a new single-cell parasite causes fearlessness and alpha dominance in animals.
Aside from the obvious problems this could create with animals attacking humans, a recent study has shown that this fearlessness parasite can have much more serious repercussion when smaller animals think they can take on larger animals.
“We identified a substantial increase in the odds of dispersal and of becoming a pack leader, both risky behaviors,” the author of the study noted. This means that parasite-infected hyenas would lose their fear of lions; monkeys would not respect the power of their natural enemy, the leopard; and mice would attack common house cats. It also means that the age-old concept of pack dominance and the acceptance of that dominance within the pack would be challenged by every infected animal. And when a pack loses its structure, it falls apart, threatening the lives of all members of that pack.
The parasite has been named Toxoplasma gondii and it was discovered during a study of 200 gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park. The wolves became infected when they ate the feces of infected mountain lions.
🚨Most people who become infected with Toxoplasma gondii are not aware of it because they have no symptoms at all.
Some people who have toxoplasmosis may feel as if they have the “flu” with swollen lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that may last for a month or more🛑 pic.twitter.com/q20Nr8yW4P
— RBC🔴 (@Pathology_747) December 19, 2022
But what may even scarier than the thought of animals rising up against us Planet-of-the-Apes style is the fact that this parasite can also affect humans. In fact, it’s said that 33% of humans and more than 10% of the U.S. population are already infected.
Luckily, there are very few symptoms in humans aside from those of the common cold, and the parasite can only reproduce in felines, but that’s not to say there aren’t problems. T. gondii can still lead to increased testosterone levels and wild behavioral changes in humans.
“This study demonstrates how community-level interactions can affect individual behavior and could potentially scale up to group-level decision-making,” the study cited. “Incorporating the implications of parasite infections into future wildlife research is vital to understanding the impacts of parasites on individuals, groups, populations, and ecosystem processes.”