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You might be the nicest person on the planet, but you have at least 100 types of creatures that want to feed off of you. That scary fact comes courtesy of scientists like ecologist Kevin Lafferty, who have been researching some of Earth's most ancient creatures: parasites. Lafferty says there has been a huge surge in interest regarding parasites, which typically have been viewed simply as things that we are trying to get rid of.
Today, science is beginning to understand the role parasites play in nature, and it's a big one. "Parasitism is the most popular lifestyle on Earth," Lafferty says. "Most animal species are probably parasitic."
With climate change's ever-increasing effects on the world, the importance of parasites has become better understood, and it's clear that a healthy parasitic existence is indicative of a healthy ecosystem -- and vice-versa.
"For free-living species, what we expect to see with climate change is that there will be some winners and some losers," Lafferty says. "Parasites, for the most part, are going to follow similar patterns. They will shift ranges, and those that can’t will be reduced as a consequence."
What's eating you?
- Protozoa are the most dangerous parasites to humans, and are the cause of many deadly diseases, including malaria, African sleeping sickness, and amoebic dysentery.
- Mites have existed almost everywhere on Earth since at least 400 million years ago, with more than 30,000 distinct species.
- Millions of people around the world are infected with tapeworms. Left untreated, these parasites can live for 30 years or more.