Survival of the feces: does a nematode lungworm adaptively manipulate the behavior of its cane toad host?

Patrick B. Finnerty*, Richard Shine, Gregory P. Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Parasites can enhance their fitness by modifying the behavior of their hosts in ways that increase rates of production and transmission of parasite larvae. We used an antihelminthic drug to experimentally alter infections of lungworms (Rhabdias pseudosphaerocephala) in cane toads (Rhinella marina). We then compared subsequent behaviors of dewormed toads versus toads that retained infections. Both in the laboratory and in the field, the presence of parasites induced hosts to select higher body temperatures (thereby increasing rates of lungworm egg production), to defecate in moister sites, and to produce feces with higher moisture content (thereby enhancing survival of larvae shed in feces). Because those behavioral modifications enhance rather than decrease parasite fitness, they are likely to have arisen as adaptive manipulations of host behavior rather than as host adaptations to combat infection or as nonadaptive consequences of infection on host physiology. However, the mechanisms by which lungworms alter cane toad thermal preference and defecation are not known. Although many examples of host manipulation by parasites involve intermediate hosts facilitating their own demise, our findings indicate that manipulation of definitive hosts can be as subtle as when and where to defecate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4606-4618
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Bufo marinus
  • deworming
  • extended phenotype
  • host–parasite manipulation


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