Parasites are a masterful work of evolutionary art. The tiny mite Histiostoma laboratorium, a parasite of Drosophila, launches itself, in an incredible display of evolutionary engineering, like a surface-to-air missile at a fruit fly far above its head. Gravid mussels such as Lampsilis ventricosa undulate excitedly as they release their parasitic larval offspring, conning greedy predators in search of a tasty meal into hosting the parasite.
The Art of Being a Parasite is an extensive collection of these and other wonderful and weird stories that illuminate the ecology and evolution of interactions between species. Claude Combes illustrates what it means to be a parasite by considering every stage of its interactions, from invading to reproducing and leaving the host. An accessible and engaging follow-up to Combes's Parasitism, this book will be of interest to both scholars and nonspecialists in the fields of biodiversity, natural history, ecology, public health, and evolution.
OF "WORMS" AND MEN
By Dr. David Watson - February 19, 2006
The Art of Being a Parasite. Claude Combes, translated by Daniel Simberloff. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2005. 291 pp. $25.00 (0226114384 paper).
Parasitology books are traditionally compendia of the bizarre and macabre-page after page of sinister pathogens infecting obscure hosts and undergoing complex metamorphoses via stages with esoteric names. Combes's book is appropriately replete with these details, covering a wealth of natural history, anatomy, life history and behaviour. What sets this book apart is the way in which this information is presented. Rather than merely catalogued, host-parasite interactions are used to illustrate broad ecological, evolutionary and philosophical discussions. After each chapter, one comes away both with a detailed knowledge of current parasitological research, but also with a deeper and broader grasp of fundamental conceptual issues in the biological sciences generally.
The little [and some not so little] buggers are everywhere!
By Stephen A. Haines - March 28, 2008
The term "parasite" usually evokes the image of some little critter feasting off some "host" unable to reject it or cast it away. Claude Combes wishes us to revise that simplistic description in favour of a more realistic view. "Parasitism" needs better definition. He prefers a more descriptive term, "mutualism" which covers more biological territory. In this wonderfully conceived and beautifully written account of what science has learned about parasites, he explains how species interact, sometimes to mutual benefit.
The "art" of being a parasite resides in their evolutionary history. Some creatures, once free-living, have managed to occupy others at various surface contact areas or internally. The mitochondria in our cells, the "energy engines" were clearly once free-living bacteria. Invading cells, they paid a "rent" of genes donated to the main genome in the nucleus. The arrangement is apparently incomplete, as mitochondria still make bids for independence. In... read more
Wonderful book on the topic of parasite evolutionary ecology
By Brittany Sears "Enviro-girl!" - July 23, 2010
Many books on evolution are difficult to read, leaving the reader skimming for chapters relevant to the paper he or she is writing - but not this one! I literally read it in a day. That's not to say that it's a simple read, because it's certainly not, especially for those folks used to thinking of the parasites as nasty buggers (from the host perspective) rather than a more objective, biological perspective of just another organism trying to maximize its fitness. I was thrilled with the treatment this book gives to clonal and kin selection, as well as the macabre-sounding phenomena of host manipulation by the parasite. I recommend it to any higher-level undergraduates as well as graduate students interested in mutualism (as the author puts it), which is just one wonderful form of many interspecific interactions. Therefore, pretty much every biologist should read it; your regard for parasites will be forever changed.