The researchers studied the effects Pleistophora mulleri, a common parasite, can have on shrimps that were infected by it.
The analysis revealed that the shrimps infected by this parasite were more likely to feed on their young, compared to the adult shrimps that didn’t carry the parasite.
Although previous studies suggested that the shrimp engages in cannibalistic behavior occasionally, the presence of these parasites led made it more frequent.
This parasite is extremely small, measuring almost the size of a human red blood. It enters the shrimp’s body and moves into its muscles like a spore.
If the parasites invade the host in a small number, it does not make much of a difference, but scientists say that millions can enter the host, affecting it.
When this happens, the muscles of the shrimp get damaged and the animal has to eat more in order to gain more energy.
Alison Dunn, one of the researchers involved in the study, explained that the parasite can do quite a damage in a large number. It’s been known to occupy large muscle areas, making the shrimp look chalky because all its muscles are packed with this parasite.
Dunn said in a statement that the shrimp turns to cannibalism in order to deal with the parasite.
Earlier studies showed that the parasite can damage the shrimp’s muscles so bad, that it’s very hard for it to catch its prey. So they turn to cannibalism because it’s the easiest way for the infected shrimps to stay alive.
The team of scientists from South Africa and United Kingdom involved in the study noted that cannibalistic behavior is present n more than 3,000 species, including humans.
Animals turn to this kind of behavior because they see it as a “lifeboat mechanism”. Cannibalism provides them with an easy access to food sources in time of need and also helps reduce the competition between the animals. But Dunn said that the study does not link parasites with cannibalistic behavior in humans.
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