Thursday, 12 April 2012

'Getting Naked' Helps Water Fleas Ditch Pesky Parasites

A tarantula rests on its back in a nest of webbing, its legs periodically flexing. With excruciating slowness, the legs start to extend as a shiny bulge begins to erupt out of the spider's back. Eventually, the tarantula pushes away its old exoskeleton like a dirty pair of pants.  

This molting process is one of the most dangerous moments in any arachnid's life, and the same goes for other exoskeleton-adorned creatures, such as crustaceans and insects. But now, research finds that this vulnerable period may actually protect molting animals from parasites.

"Molting shortly after exposure to parasites can actually help hosts get rid of attached parasites before they penetrate the host body," said study author David Duneau, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University who completed the research while at the University of Basel, Switzerland. "Therefore, the study suggests a new means for avoiding infection for hosts which molt throughout their lives, like is the case for crustaceans, arachnids, nematodes, amphibians and reptiles."

To test this idea, Duneau exposed tiny crustaceans called water fleas (Daphnia magna) to a bacterial parasite in the genus Pasteuria. He then monitored the water fleas for molting and infection rates.

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