Altering the alpha: A parasite is helping some wolves become leaders of the pack

Thom Bridge

What does it take to become leader of the pack? For wolves in Yellowstone National Park, research shows it might be exposure to a cat-centric parasite.

A recent study by University of Montana and Yellowstone biologists found a remarkable thing about toxoplasma gondii– a single-celled parasite that can survive in almost any warm-blooded animal but only reproduces in felines. It turns out that wolves infected with toxo, as the biologists nickname it, appears to turn wolves into risk-takers. That means they’re more likely to disperse to other packs, and WAY more likely to become leaders of new packs than uninfected wolves. 

The study adds to a growing body of evidence indicating that some parasites may have a real ability to change minds – including human minds. 

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On this episode, Rob Chaney, editor of the Missoulian newspaper discusses this parasite might be controlling the minds of wolves.

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