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3 Morphological Adaptations of Parasites

The varied adaptations that parasites undergo depend on the parasite's location within the host, feeding
methods, life cycle, etc. These adaptations can be classified as either progressive or regressive, or
Progressive adaptation means that the parasite has developed certain of its parts to a higher level of
functionality. For example,
well-developed attachment devices: mouth and belly suckers, or numerous hooks in the scolex
(head) as well as tiny claws or well-developed mouth parts which help them stay attached to the
host. The development of sophisticated attachment devices is conditioned by the fact that for
many parasites an unintended separation from the host means death for the parasite as they are
unable to find a new one.
parasites of the digestive tract have an anti-enzyme coating of their body - protects the parasites
from the host's enzymes. The coating of some parasites has numerous microscopic tubes used for
sucking in host-digested food.
bloodsucking parasites have adapted their digestive system to take in enormous amounts of food.
The body volume increases as they feed.
some parasites develop special mouthparts enabling to pierce the host's skin and the sucking of
Regressive adaptations, involve the simplification or disappearance of certain organs of the parasite.
For example:
locomotion devices altogether: legs and wings;
digestive system, feeding instead on host-digested food sucked in through openings in the
blood circulation and breathing systems (have adapted to an anaerobic environment);
complex sensory organs: olfactory, auditory, visual.
Biological adaptations are those adaptations which enable the parasites to survive better, but cannot be
explained as simply atrophy or development of new organs for the parasites.
adapt with body coloring, body shape;
highly sensitive host detection system;
parasites tend to reproduce very easily, both sexually and asexually;
lay enormous numbers of eggs;
reproduce due to parthogenesis (reproduction without fertilisation).
are hermaphrodites (each individual has both male and female reproductive organ - due to their
hermaphroditism, tapeworms can fertilise themselves.
tapeworms spread their eggs by destrobillation - detachment of mature proglottides filled with
eggs from the body.
this process also serves to constanly rejuvenate the tapeworm as it produces new segments.
life cycle compatibility of parasites and their hosts.
4. Natural Circulation of Parasites
In order to survive, ecto- and endoparasites have evolved to be able to leave the host and to change
hosts. The range of possible hosts and the way parasites leave and enter their hosts determine the travel
paths of parasites in nature, as well as those of the diseases they cause.
4.1 Sources, Reservoirs and Vectors of Infectous Diseases
The process by which an organism is entered by disease-causing agents is known as infection, and the
resulting diseases as infectious diseases. The process by which parasites (that is protozoa, helminths,
arthropods) enter the host is also known as invasion, and parasitic diseases are also termed as invasive

An organism (human or animal) in which a disease-causing parasite lives, develops or reproduces is
termed as an infection/invasion source. From the source, the parasite can be transmitted to a new host
(another human or animal).
Autoinfection (autoinvasion) means that hosts are the source of infection with parasites for themselves.
It occurs through unwashed hands, dirty dishes and kitchen utensils. Helminth eggs may, as in the cases
of teniosis, enter the stomach when the diseased person vomits, due antiperistaltic movements in the
Reinfection (reinvasion) means that the host got rid of the parasites, but has been infected again. This is
most common for protozoa or helminths infecting children, typically due to poor personal hygiene.
The duration of parasitic invasion may vary greatly. It depends on:
the longevity of the parasite (pinworms live for only a month, while the encapsulated larvae of
the trichinella may survive for up to 20 years)
the intensity of the infection (drinking sewage-polluted water results in ingesting numerous cysts
of the dysenteric amoeba)
the specifics of parasite reproduction (female trichinella may produce up to 2000 larvae)
the strength of the immune system of the host (a strong immune system ejects dysenteric amoeba
cysts without harm, a weak one fails to prevent disease)
the age and any concurrent illness of the host
It somethimes occurs that a parasitic disease first begin as an asymptomatic form and only after some
time moves to a symptomatic form. A disease without clinical symptoms is known as a latent disease,
and the period it lasts - as the latent period. If the symptoms, after getting better, take a turn for the
worse, such a situation is termed a relapse of the disease.
An organism in which parasites can accumulate and survive for extended periods of time is known as a
reservoir host. In some cases, humans serve as reservoir hosts, as in the cases of malaria and typhus, in
other cases, sick (ill) animals serve as reservoir hosts.
A natural reservoir is a habitat suitable for sustaining parasite life in the natural environment. There are
several types of natural reservoir:
1.soil reservoirs, the parasites survive in plants, soil-dwelling protozoa and in the soil itself
2.aquatic reservoirs, the parasites survive in phyto- and zooplankton (algae, protozoa,
crustaceans), bentos (worms, molluscs, arthropods) an necton (fish).
3. above-ground reservoirs involve the mammals and bloodsucking insects hosting the parasites.
4. technogenic reservoirs are human created habitats allowing the survival of parasites. The human
actions that transform the environment in such a way are numerous (human-induced climate change,
logging, urban sprawl, factory waste, drainage of fields and rivers, desert irrigation, etc.)
Many disease-causing agents are very adaptable, able to change reservoirs, survive in broad ranges of
temperature and humidity, or live in various hosts and use various vectors.
Vectors are critical to the natural circulation of many parasites. Most vectors are bloodsucking
arthropods (insects and arachnids). Vectors may be classified into mechanical vectors and specific
Mechanical vectors simply transport disease-causing agents from host to host. No development of the
parasites occurs in these vectors.
Specific vectors are definitive or intermediate hosts as well: the parasites develop in them and are
typically passed on at the end of that development. Consequently, there is normally a very limited
number of spieces that may serve as specific vectors for any given parasite.