Parasitism is a close relationship between species, where one organism, the parasite, lives on or inside another organism, the host, causing it some harm, and is adapted structurally to this way of life.[1] The entomologist E. O. Wilson has characterised parasites as "predators that eat prey in units of less than one".[2] Parasites include single-celled protozoans such as the agents of malaria, sleeping sickness, and amoebic dysentery; animals such as hookworms, lice, mosquitoes, and vampire bats; fungi such as honey fungus and the agents of ringworm; and plants such as mistletoe, dodder, and the broomrapes.

A fish parasite, the isopod Cymothoa exigua, replacing the tongue of a Lithognathus

There are six major parasitic strategies of exploitation of animal hosts, namely parasitic castration, directly transmitted parasitism (by contact), trophically-transmitted parasitism (by being eaten), vector-transmitted parasitism, parasitoidism, and micropredation. One major axis of classification concerns invasiveness: an endoparasite lives inside the host's body; an ectoparasite lives outside, on the host's surface.

Like predation, parasitism is a type of consumer–resource interaction,[3] but unlike predators, parasites, with the exception of parasitoids, are typically much smaller than their hosts, do not kill them, and often live in or on their hosts for an extended period. Parasites of animals are highly specialised, and reproduce at a faster rate than their hosts. Classic examples include interactions between vertebrate hosts and tapeworms, flukes, the malaria-causing Plasmodium species, and fleas.

Parasites reduce host fitness by general or specialised pathology, from parasitic castration to modification of host behaviour. Parasites increase their own fitness by exploiting hosts for resources necessary for their survival, in particular by feeding on them and by using intermediate (secondary) hosts to assist in their transmission from one definitive (primary) host to another. Although parasitism is often unambiguous, it is part of a spectrum of interactions between species, grading via parasitoidism into predation, through evolution into mutualism, and in some fungi, shading into being saprophytic.

People have known about parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms since ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In early modern times, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek observed Giardia lamblia in his microscope in 1681, while Francesco Redi described internal and external parasites including sheep liver fluke and ticks. Modern parasitology developed in the 19th century. In human culture, parasitism has negative connotations. These were exploited to satirical effect in Jonathan Swift's 1733 poem "On Poetry: A Rhapsody", comparing poets to hyperparasitical "vermin". In fiction, Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula and its many later adaptations featured a blood-drinking parasite. Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien was one of many works of science fiction to feature a parasitic alien species.[4]

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