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manipulated altruism


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A form of parasitism in which the parasite exploits the learned and innate behaviours that ordinarily increase the likelihood that the host will survive, reproduce, and raise healthy offspring. For example, when an adult rove beetle (Atemeles pubicollis) enters a nest of Formica polyctema ants, the beetle presents its abdomen to the ants. An appeasement gland on the beetle's abdomen releases a pheromone that inhibits the hostile behaviour with which the ants would otherwise repel the intruder. The beetle then emits another pheromone that stimulates the ants to carry it into the nest, where it lays its eggs. The beetle's larvae exude a substance that stimulates the ants to regurgitate food for them. The European cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) waits until its host has laid eggs, then ejects one of the eggs from the nest and lays its own egg, which resembles that of the host. The host bird then incubates the cuckoo's egg and feeds the resulting chick. The cuckoo exploits the host's normal behaviour of incubating its eggs and feeding its chicks. There are many other examples.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation.


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