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Parasitism: Examples & Definition

Parasitism: Examples & Definition
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  • 0:00 Parasitism
  • 0:56 Types
  • 1:56 Special Cases
  • 3:27 Defenses
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Enzor

Laura has a Master's degree in Biology and is working on her PhD in Biology. She specializes in teaching Human Physiology at USC.

Parasitism describes a relationship between two organisms where one is harmed, and the other benefits. Learn about the different types of parasitism and examples of each.

Parasitism

Parasitism describes a relationship between two organisms where one benefits, and the other is harmed. The parasite is the organism that benefits from the relationship, while the host is harmed by the relationship. Parasites can be a number of things including plants, animals and even viruses and bacteria.

It is useful to know about parasitism because, technically, anything that is benefited while we are harmed is considered a parasite. Yes, that pesky mosquito that keeps biting you just gained an official title. While some of the parasites that affect humans can be a nuisance, such as lice or bedbugs, there are other parasites that can make us really sick, such as a bite from a tick, which can cause Lyme disease, or giardia, which we ingest by drinking contaminated water.

Types

Parasites are classified by how they interact with their host. Overall, parasites are much smaller than their hosts and reproduce at a faster rate.

Parasites that live on their host are termed ectoparasites. Examples of ectoparasites are fleas, ticks and mites. These parasites live on larger animals, like cats, dogs and deer. Parasites that live inside their host are termed endoparasites. These include things like parasitic worms, bacteria and viruses. One interesting case of an endoparasite is the hornworm caterpillar and the braconid wasp. The wasp lays eggs inside the hornworm, which then hatch and kill the host. This relationship is considered beneficial to humans, because hornworms eat the leaves on plants, such as tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes, and ruin a lot of crops for farmers.

Ectoparasitism and Endoparasitism

Special Cases

An epiparasite is a parasite that feeds on another parasite. A common example of this is a protozoan that lives in the digestive tract of a flea, which then parasitizes a dog or cat.

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