Cover image for Parasite rex : inside the bizarre world of nature's most dangerous creatures
Parasite rex : inside the bizarre world of nature's most dangerous creatures
Zimmer, Carl, 1966-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxii, 298 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
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QL757 .Z56 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QL757 .Z56 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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A tour of the strange and bizarre world that parasites inhabit. It follows researchers in parasitology as they attempt to penetrate the mysteries of these creatures who can control evolution, ecosystems and maybe even the human race.

Author Notes

Carl Zimmer is a frequent contributor to Discover, National Geographic, Natural History, Nature, and Science. He is a winner of the Everett Clark Award for science journalism and the American Institute of Biological Sciences Media Award. He lives in New York City

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Repulsive they may be to us, but Mother Nature cares not a whit for our feelings about parasites. She's concerned only with how successful those deadly freeloaders are in the evolutionary struggle, and, by any measure, parasites are thriving winners. This is a ghastly state of affairs for sufferers of river blindness, sleeping sickness, malaria, and more; fortunately, in the outlands of biology, a specialty called parasitology labors to understand and combat the organisms causing such afflictions. This is the field Zimmer unblinkingly explores, replete with scenes of dissections that expose the worms, flukes, and single-celled organisms that invade a host. Gross! But as Zimmer estimably explains how tough life is from the parasite's perspective, such as the relentless battle with the host's immune system, the reader begins to concede parasites their niche in the ecological system. Further, Zimmer usefully discusses parasites' behaviors, especially their defenses against antibodies, as evolutionary adaptations reaching back to the primeval epochs of life's history. A well-organized and well-presented survey of parasites' life cycles and the debilitations they cause. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

One of the year's most fascinating works of popular science is also its most disgusting. From tapeworms to isopods to ichneumon wasps, "parasites are complex, highly adapted creatures that are at the heart of the story of life." Zimmer (At the Water's Edge) devotes his second book to the enormous variety of one- and many-celled organisms that live on and inside other animals and plants. The gruesome trypanosomes that cause sleeping sickness had nearly been routed from Sudan when the country's civil war began: now they're back. Costa Rican researcher Daniel Brooks has discovered dozens of parasites, including flies that lay eggs in deer noses: "snot bots." And those are only the creatures from the prologue. Zimmer discusses how the study of parasites began, with 19th-century discoveries about their odd life cycles. (Many take on several forms in several generations, so that a mother worm may resemble her granddaughter, but not her daughter.) He looks at how parasites pass from host to host, and how they defeat immune systems and vice versa. Many parasites alter their hosts' behavior: Toxoplasma makes infected rats fearless, thus more likely to be eaten by cats, who will then pick up the microbe. Quantifiable "laws of virulence" lead parasites to become nasty enough to spread, yet not so nasty as to wipe out all their hosts. And eons of coevolution can affect both partners: howler monkeys may avoid violent fights because screwworms can render the least scratch fatal. Two final chapters address parasites in human medicine and agriculture. Not only are parasites not all bad, Zimmer concludes in this exemplary work of popular science, but we may be parasites, tooDand we have a lot to learn from them about how to manage earth, the host we share. Illus. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Zimmer, a columnist at National History, has written an absolutely fascinating book about parasitesDonce the reader gets past the "grossness" factor. As with his previous book, At the Water's Edge (LJ 2/1/98), evolution is central: Zimmer considers not only how parasites have evolved but how they may have helped the evolution of other species. Though humans are not the only species discussed, some of the most interesting evolutionary theories come from human-parasite relations. Mild cases of sickle cell anemia, for instance, seem to protect against malaria, implying that these sorts of blood diseases have evolved with the aid of parasites. The author discusses more recent research suggesting that some modern diseases, such as allergies or ulcerative colitis, may actually be triggered by our immune systems' not having parasites to fight. This well-written book makes parasitology interesting and accessible to anyone. Not a textbook (a few good ones are recommended in a selected bibliography), it does have a place in science libraries, even for students who don't realize that their field of study is related to parasitology. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DMargaret Henderson, Cold Spring Harbor Academics, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Vein Is a River: First sightings of the inner worldp. ix
1 Nature's Criminals: How parasites came to be hated by just about everyonep. 1
2 Terra Incognita: Swimming through the heart, fighting to the death inside a caterpillar, and other parasitic adventuresp. 23
3 The Thirty Years' War: How parasites provoke, manipulate, and get intimate with our immune systemp. 55
4 A Precise Horror: How parasites turn their hosts into castrated slaves, drink blood, and manage to change the balance of naturep. 79
5 The Great Step Inward: Four billion years in the reign of Parasite Rexp. 118
6 Evolution from Within: The peacock's tail, the origin of species, and other battles against the rules of evolutionp. 157
7 The Two-Legged Host: How Homo sapiens grew up with creatures insidep. 190
8 How to Live in a Parasitic World: A sick planet, and how the most newly arrived parasite can be part of a curep. 216
Glossaryp. 247
Notesp. 251
Further Reading and Selected Bibliographyp. 265
Acknowledgmentsp. 287
Indexp. 289