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Parasites as Prey

  1. Anouk Goedknegt,
  2. Jennifer Welsh,
  3. David W Thieltges

Published Online: 17 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023604



How to Cite

Goedknegt, A., Welsh, J. and Thieltges, D. W. 2012. Parasites as Prey. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Texel, The Netherlands

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 17 SEP 2012


Parasites are usually considered to use their hosts as a resource for energy. However, there is increasing awareness that parasites can also become a resource themselves and serve as prey for other organisms. Here we describe various types of predation in which parasites act as prey for other organisms: (1) predation of nonhosts on infected hosts (concomitant predation), (2) predation on free-living parasite life cycle stages, (3) predation on ectoparasites in form of grooming or cleaning and (4) predation or hyperparasitism by other parasites. In many cases, these types of predation significantly reduce the numbers of parasites and thus affect parasite population dynamics. In contrast, predation on parasites is often beneficial for the hosts as they are released from parasite burden. Finally, when parasites act as prey they may contribute to the nonhost predator's diet, in some cases constituting a significant proportion of energy intake.

Key Concepts:

  • There is increasing awareness that parasites can become a resource themselves by serving as prey for other organisms.

  • Predation on parasites can have significant effects on parasite population dynamics, for example, by interfering with the transmission of infective stages.

  • For hosts, parasite predation may result in a reduced parasite burden, the so-called dilution effect.

  • When nonhosts prey on parasites or infected prey, this may have an effect on their energy uptake by mediating the energetic value of their prey.

  • Future studies on the levels of predation on parasites in food webs will increase our understanding of disease dynamics as well as the topology and functioning of food webs.


  • parasites;
  • food web;
  • trophic transmission;
  • predation;
  • hyperparasitism;
  • biological control;
  • ectoparasites