2015 Photo Contest, Nature, Stories, 1st prize

Mindsuckers

Photographer

Anand Varma

National Geographic

21 June, 2013

The parasitic Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga wasp lays its egg on the abdomen of a Leucauge argyra spider. The larva feeds on the spider’s bodily fluids. As the larva pupates, the spider begins to rip down its web and reconstruct one that is perfect for protecting the larva’s cocoon from predators. The larva forms its cocoon after sucking the spider dry.

Many parasites not only feed off their hosts, but appear to manipulate the host’s behavior in a way that is advantageous to the parasite’s life cycle. Recent research indicates that this influence occurs at a genetic level—certain parasite genes seem to be able to take control of the host’s brain. Research has shown that in some cases a single parasite gene is responsible for altering the host’s behavior, though in most instances it is thought that the phenomenon is brought about by a combination of genes.

About

Anand Varma

Anand Varma is a freelance photographer and videographer who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. He started photographing natural history subjects while studying biology at the Universi...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
1/197
Focal length
100.0 mm
F-Stop
16.0
ISO
200
Camera
Canon EOS 5D Mark III

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