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T. Gondii And The Leaders Of The Pack

An interesting study linking Toxoplasma gondii, a common parasite, and wolf pack leadership has surfaced.

researchers wondered what sort of impact of T. gondii infections might have on wild wolves. To find out, they conducted an extensive study of wolves living in Yellowstone National Park.

The work involved studying data from blood samples taken from over 200 wolves living in the park over the years 19952020, while looking for evidence of infection. The researchers also looked at the notes made by research observers to learn more about any behavior changes that might have been evident in the wolves.

The researchers found that young, infected wolves tended to leave their packs earlier than those uninfected. Infected males were 50% more likely to leave their pack as early as six months after birth. Males normally stay for up to 21 months. And infected females were 25% more likely to leave their pack at 30 months, rather than the normal 48.

The researchers also found that infected males were more than 46 times more likely to become pack leaders than uninfected males. The researchers also found that infection rates were higher in wolves that mingled with cougars. The researchers suggest the differences in behavior were likely due to the impact of the parasite on the brains of wolves, making them bolder and less likely to back down when challenged by others.

In Larry Niven's Protector (1973; short story appeared in 1967), Niven writes about the Pak. This race goes through several stages; child, breeder and Protector. The Protector stage is only reached when a mature Pak breeder encounters Tree-of-Life root; unable to resist gorging himself, the Pak infects himself with a virus that transforms him into the end stage of his race. Joints swell, skin turns leathery, strength increases and the brain grows. Don't forget the cranial ridge and beak.

Pak Protectors take on the responsibility of advancing the interests of their bloodline, using their ruthlessness, amorality and super-human strength.

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