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Parasitic Personalities: Consistent Individual Differences in Behavior in a Facultatively Parasitic Mite


Host attachment is a necessary behavior in the evolution of parasitism. It is hypothesized that populations pass through a stage of facultative parasitism before the evolution of obligate parasitism. Previous research has revealed the impact of extrinsic factors on the expression of parasitic tendencies, but to our knowledge, the role of individual behavioral variation driving parasitic tendencies remains to be tested. Here, we used repeated behavioral assays to quantify attachment propensity and activity level of individual Macrocheles muscaedomesticae, facultatively parasitic mites of flies, from two different populations. Mites from both populations exhibited repeatability in attachment propensity and mites from one population exhibited repeatability in activity level. We did not find a relationship between an individual’s activity level and attachment propensity. Our data suggest that facultative parasitism may not simply describe a phenotypically plastic strategy that responds to environmental cues, but perhaps that individual differences in parasitic tendencies may appear like facultative parasitism at the population or species level.

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We thank Chelsea Gerena and Jade Chappa for their help with activity assays.

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Authors and Affiliations



ESD and CNK contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection were performed by ESD. AMR performed data analyses and wrote the statistical methods and results sections. The first draft of the manuscript was written by ESD and all authors commented on and edited previous versions of the manuscript. The raw data associated with this manuscript are available at All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Emily S. Durkin.

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Durkin, E.S., Roth, A.M. & Keiser, C.N. Parasitic Personalities: Consistent Individual Differences in Behavior in a Facultatively Parasitic Mite. J Insect Behav 33, 14–19 (2020).

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