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The Art of Being a Parasite

Parasites are a masterful work of evolutionary art. The tiny mite Histiostoma laboratorium, a parasite of Drosophila, launches itself, in an incredible display of evolutionary engineering, like a surface-to-air missile at a fruit fly far above its head. Gravid mussels such as Lampsilis ventricosa undulate excitedly as they release their parasitic larval offspring, conning greedy predators in search of a tasty meal into hosting the parasite.

The Art of Being a Parasite is an extensive collection of these and other wonderful and weird stories that illuminate the ecology and evolution of interactions between species. Claude Combes illustrates what it means to be a parasite by considering every stage of its interactions, from invading to reproducing and leaving the host. An accessible and engaging follow-up to Combes’s Parasitism, this book will be of interest to both scholars and nonspecialists in the fields of biodiversity, natural history, ecology, public health, and evolution.

280 pages | 70 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Biological Sciences: Biology--Systematics, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History


"In Claude Combes’s The Art of Being a Parasite (University of Chicago Press, £16/$25) you’ll find a hidden world of some of the most bizarre animal behaviour. Watch out for projectile mites that launch themselves at their prey like missiles. You’ll also learn why some Pyrenean frogs become parasite targets and some don’t, how parasites drive evolution, and why a complicated life is better for fish tapeworms. "

Maggie McDonald | New Scientist

"The book is a gem to lecturers looking for interesting examples to illustrate their teaching. However, The Art of Being a Parasite is not meant to be used as a reference work. It should be read for what it is: an inspiring and original story on host–parasite coevolution. As such, The Art of Being a Parasite is an important contribution to both the parasitological and evolutionary literature."

Arne Skorping | Trends in Ecology and Evolution

“Humankind is engaged in an ‘arms race’ with parasites. As people and other potential hosts develop adaptations to help avoid these frightening creatures that seek to invade their bodies, the parasite-invaders also acquire adaptations that aid them in finding and attacking their hosts. . . . Combes’ work offers readers an artful discussion of the role parasites play in the evolution of life. The author synthesizes the finding of many parasite and evolutionary biology researchers. Numerous examples of symbiotic species illustrate the discussions of parasites, their hosts, mutualisms, and the selective factors that drive their evolution.”

A. G. Ferguson | Choice

"A quick and enthusiastic tour of the strategies and counterstrategies used by parasites and their hosts in their coevolutionary battle. . . . The book has the feel of a series of lectures by an animated and skilled teacher who has thought carefully about how to make complex ideas accessible to students. . . . His presentation is a model of how to explain difficult concepts in evolutionary biology to students. . . . I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the evolution of interactions."

Timothy P. Craig | Ecology

"We know that parasites are wonderful creatures. But convincing the average person of this simple fact is a monumental challenge indeed. On the whole, Combes achieves this superbly. . . . We truly get the whole picture from this modest-sized book."

Robert Poulin | Parasitology

Table of Contents

Introduction: What Is a Symbiosis?
1. Arms Races
2. How Does One Become a Parasite?
3. The Profession of Parasite
4. The Profession of Host
5. The Profession of Mutualist
6. Alice and the Red Queen
7. Sexual Selection and Parasitism
8. Parasites in Space and Time
9. Emerging Diseases and the Future Arms Race

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