Why rats commit suicide by jumping in front of hungry cats

rat under the influence of toxoplasmaYou really don’t want to take the last piece of chocolate cake. But a voice in your head convinces you that it is okay.

Of course, as you wipe the last crumbs from the corner of your mouth and feel a wave of indigestion – you come to your senses and know, it was NOT the right thing to do.

It is as if someone else is controlling your brain…..

Well this is what happens to rats who become kitty lunch.

A parasite takes over the brain

Researchers have discovered that the parasite known as Toxoplasma quite literally takes over the brain of male rats.

Under normal circumstances rats fear cats. The slightest whiff of a cat, would cause a rat to do a 360° about turn and fly off in the opposite direction.

But once the rat has been infected with the Toxoplasma parasite, cat odour “turns them on”.  They brazenly approach the cat – mistakenly believing the cat to be an attractive “lady” rat.

Score 1 for parasite

The bizarre behaviour is definitely good for the Toxoplasma parasite and bad for the rat.

Not sure how the cat reacts to unexpected rat advances but …………. when all is said and done, a rat dinner probably hits the spot quite nicely. And for a lazy cat, the idea of dinner coming to you, is more appealing than having to hunt it down.

Score 2 for parasite

Toxoplasma is a parasite with a complex lifecycle.  The parasite needs to pass through a cat’s digestive system to reproduce.

Sending an infected rat right in front of a cat – pretty much ensures that Toxoplasma successfully pro-creates.

PS. The rat is still afraid of everything else, so it won’t throw itself in front of a human or stand around while an owl is circling.

How does it do it ?

Ah, this is still a big mystery. Researchers don’t know how, but they know it happens.

The parasite does take up residence in the brain and it settles near the amygdala, a region of the brain which is responsible for controlling a wide range of fear and emotional behaviours. Once there, it changes how the rat perceives cat smells, somehow cross wiring cat smell with “hot” female rat smells.

Blame chocolate cake munchies on the parasite in your brain

It might be a bit unfair to blame Toxoplasma for your lack of will power – there really is no scientific evidence.

But wouldn’t it be nice to blame your eating slip-ups on a hungry worm in your brain ?

Predator Cat Odors Activate Sexual Arousal Pathways in Brains of Toxoplasma gondii Infected Rats. PLoS ONE (2011) 6 (8): e23277. Patrick K. House, Ajai Vyas, Robert Sapolsky.

Interested in learning how to control that hungry worm in your head ?

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Further reading

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Your smelly feet are making you a target for hungry mosquitoes Why stress makes you feel hungry for nice things   Smoking pot makes you potty

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  1. By » Blog Archive » Round up 29 Aug – 2 Sept on September 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    [...] Why rats commit suicide by jumping in front of hungry cats [...]

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