Termites Sometimes Consume Parasitic Eggs

Termites Sometimes Consume Parasitic Eggs

Termites are just one of the many types of insects that cause human misery. Termites are the most damaging and prevalent of all wood-boring insects. Although nobody likes discovering a termite infestation within their home, at least termites cannot spread disease, right? Of course it is the damage that termites inflict on timber-framed structures that make them universally hated. However, termites can become parasitized by particular nematodes that are known as “acanthocephalans”. After becoming infected with these parasitic nematodes, it is technically possible for termites to transmit the parasitic infection to humans. For termites, the most common source of infection is cat feces. Termites become infected after eating cat feces that contain parasitic eggs  Mammalian and reptilian termite predators contract the parasitic disease after consuming an infected termite. Very few human cases of acanthocephalan infection have been reported over the course of history. Despite its rarity, these nematodes can still wind up infecting the human body.

The parasitic nematodes that infect termites and other arthropods are commonly referred to as thorny-headed worms. Their species name is Multisentis myrmecobius and they belong to the acanthocephala phylum. After a termite consumes acanthocephalan eggs, it takes one to three months before the nematode develops parasitic features. The nematodes infecting termites want to be consumed by termite predators in order to infect a new and larger host. Therefore nematodes will alter a termite’s behavior and appearance in order to make them easy targets for predators. These larger termite predators include lizards, pangolins, birds, bears, foxes and anteaters. After becoming infected, a worker termite’s head will change color from bright yellow to pale yellow. From the point of view of a termite predator, this color change further distinguishes tasty worker termites from foul-tasting soldiers. A recent study demonstrated that lizards always choose to consume termites that are pale yellow in color as opposed to termites that are bright yellow. In addition to changes in appearance, infected termites also refrain from work of any sort; instead, infected worker termites linger in open areas in order to increase the chances of being consumed by large predators. These changes in termite behavior and appearance are caused by nematodes in an effort to infect a new host.

Parasitic acanthocephalan eggs are expelled in the feces of the second host. Since cats often eat insects, like termites, their feces often contain acanthocephalan eggs. Theoretically, humans can contract this parasitic infection, but not without eating a raw termite or other infected insect. Russia sees the highest rate of human acanthocephalan infections because eating raw beetle grubs is common in the country. Just like termites, beetle grubs and all other insects can become an intermediate host to acanthocephalan parasites.

If you experienced a termite infestation in your home, would you make a point to remove your cat from your home until the infestation was professionally handled?


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