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Scientists at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center study the many ecosystems of the Pacific Southwest. Follow our expeditions and projects through this outreach page, and learn more about your local landscape with our library of Outreach Factsheets and photos. Thanks for joining us!

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A microscopy photo of Euhaplorchis californiensis, a parasitic trematode. --Photographer: Todd Huspeni, University of California
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Night of the Brain Snatchers!
They infest your brains! They control your mind and lead you to your demise!  And they come from outer space!

Or at least in that general direction...

Kevin Lafferty is a WERC lead scientist based at our Channel Islands Field Station and at University of California-Santa Barbara. He has devoted much of his research to the study of parasites and their complex life cycles -- how they feed on their hosts and how they reproduce and disperse. "Parasites are organisms, too," Lafferty likes to remind us. "But they just live life a bit differently."

To get a taste of Lafferty's research, check out this archive video clip from 2009. Here, he and colleague Dr. Jenny Shaw explain their work on the brain parasite Euhaplorchis californiensis.

This parasite infest the brains of small fish in the Carpinteria Salt Marsh near Santa Barbara. It causes a fish to swim erratically, making its host more visible to hungry, predatory birds. When the birds eat the fish and fly away to the sky, they also carry the parasites away, eventually dispersing the parasite's eggs into other ponds through their fecal matter.

Check it out:

WERC embedded video should be here. You may not have a browser with enabled video embedding.

-- Ben Young Landis

Top: Microscopy photo of Euhaplorchis parasite courtesy of Todd Huspeni/University of California. 

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