HomeOutdoorsNewsScientists Make Bizarre Discovery About Which Wolves Become Leaders of Their Pack

Scientists Make Bizarre Discovery About Which Wolves Become Leaders of Their Pack

by Emily Morgan
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Photo by: Cloudtail_the_Snow_Leopard

According to a new study, wolves infected with a parasite are far more likely to become a pack leader. In addition, the recent study suggests that the parasite attacks the brain and makes its host take more risks.

Although the single-celled parasite, known as Toxoplasma gondii, only sexually reproduces in cats but can infect all warm-blooded animals.

According to scientists, 30-50 percent of people on earth are estimated to have this parasite inside them. However, those with a strong immune system rarely show any symptoms.

However, some studies have reported an association between people having the parasite in their brain and high levels of risk-taking. But, other research has debated this information, and experts have found no definitive link.

Wolves infected with a common parasite are far more likely to become the leader of their pack, according to the study. It also suggests that the brain-dwelling intruder emboldens its host to take more risks.

The single-celled parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, only sexually reproduces in cats but can infect all warm-blooded animals.

While some studies have reported an association between people having the parasite in their brain and increased risk-taking, other research has disputed these findings.

The recent study, published in the journal Communications Biology, studied 26 years’ worth of data on wolves living in Yellowstone National Park.

New study reveals wolves far more likely to take risks if infected

The researchers analyzed the blood samples of nearly 230 wolves and 62 cougars. These big cats have been known to spread the parasite. They concluded that infected wolves were far more likely to go deeper into cougar territory than the uninfected.

In addition, the study revealed that those infected were 11 times more likely to leave their pack than wolves who weren’t infected. Researchers also estimated that infected wolfs are 46 times more likely to become pack leaders, adding that more aggressive animals typically obtain the role.

Co-author of the study, Kira Cassidy told outlets that while “being bolder is not necessarily a bad thing,” it can “lower survival for the most bold animals as they might make decisions that put them in danger more often.”

She added: “Wolves do not have the survival space to take too many more risks than they already do.”

Cassidy also said it was only the second study on T. gondii’s effect on animals. The 2021 study found that increased bravery in infected hyena cubs made them likely to get closer to lions. Laboratory research has also found that rodents with the parasite didn’t have their natural fear of cats.

William Sullivan, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology has been studying T.gondii for more than 25 years. He recently called the wolf paper “a rare gem”.

However, he warned that such study could not show causation. “A wolf that is a born risk-taker may simply be more likely to venture into cougar territory and contract Toxoplasma,” he said.

Outsider.com