A wide range of parasites are known to cause behavioral changes in their hosts and parasitized insects are especially amenable to the study of such changes. The majority of studies addressing parasite-induced behavioral alterations have focused on parasites with complex life cycles and the adaptive nature of such changes. Behavioral changes caused by parasitoids, single-host parasites that kill their host upon emergence, have been studied less and the adaptive nature of these changes is likely to be different than those in complex life cycles. I investigated behavioral alterations in Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae infected with parasitoid nematodes (family Mermithidae). I conducted several experiments in which I tested the following hypotheses: 1) Mermithid nematodes induce behavioral changes in mosquito larvae and the changes are density dependent. 2) Different species of mermithid nematodes induce similar changes in mosquito larvae behavior. 3) Behavioral alterations vary with mermithid developmental stage. 4) Mosquito larvae infected with mermithid nematodes behave similarly to uninfected food-deprived mosquito larvae. I found that 4th instar Ae. aegypti infected with Romanomermis culicivorax or Strelkovimermis spiculatus exhibited resting behaviors significantly more often than uninfected controls but that intensity of infection did not affect activity levels. In earlier instars, infected mosquito larvae were more active than uninfected control larvae in some behaviors associated with feeding. There was no significant difference between infected and uninfected food-deprived mosquitoes in nine of the ten behaviors observed. The decrease in activity of late instar Ae. aegypti larvae infected with mermithids may be a parasitoid adaptation that reduces the risk of predation and thus increases host and parasitoid survival. The increase in feeding activity in earlier instars as well as the similarity between uninfected food-deprived and infected Ae. aegypti behavior may indicate that these behaviors are adaptive for the parasitoid, increasing nutritional acquisition for successful parasitoid development.
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