Animals that deliver a toxic secretion through a wound or to the body surface without a wound are considered venomous and toxungenous, respectively. Hematophagous insects, such as mosquitoes (Aedes spp.), meet the criteria for venomous, and some endoparasitic insects, such as warble flies (Hypoderma tarandi), satisfy the definition for toxungenous. The impacts of these insects on their hosts are wide ranging. In the Arctic, their primary host is the most abundant ungulate, the caribou (Rangifer tarandus). The most conspicuous impacts of these insects on caribou are behavioral. Caribou increase their movements during peak insect harassment, evading and running away from these parasites. These behavioral responses scale up to physiological effects as caribou move to less productive habitats to reduce harassment which increases energetic costs due to locomotion, reduces nutrient intake due to less time spent foraging, and can lead to poorer physiological condition. Reduced physiological condition can lead to lower reproductive output and even higher mortality rates, with the potential to ultimately affect caribou demographics. Caribou affect all trophic levels in the Arctic and the processes that connect them, thus altering caribou demographics could impact the ecology of the region. Broadening the definitions of venomous and toxungenous animals to include hematophagous and endoparasitic insects should not only generate productive collaborations among toxinologists and parasitologists, but will also lead to a deeper understanding of the ecology of toxic secretions and their widespread influence.
Behavioral, physiological, demographic and ecological impacts of hematophagous and endoparasitic insects on an Arctic ungulate
Article published in Ecosphere
Article published in Science