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Excerpt from Songs of the Dead

Parasites (p. 115)

From chapter "Necrophilia"

The health of the landbase is everything. I’m thinking about the roles parasites play in maintaining that health. I’m thinking about parasites who take over the bodies of marine snails, and of the snails living full lives—fifteen years—but over that time, fostering more parasites instead of creating more snails. I’m thinking of the grasses those overpopulated snails would otherwise have eaten. And I’m thinking of parasites leaving the snails and moving into fish, and causing those fish to swim near the surface and flash their shiny underbellies to be seen by birds who eat those fish. Catching infected fish is ten to thirty times easier for those birds. If fish did not get infected, birds would starve to death. I’m thinking of birds becoming infected with parasites who lay eggs to be dropped off by birds in feces, and I’m thinking of the cycle beginning again. I’m thinking of how parasites help all these species—though not always individuals—and I’m thinking of how they help entire communities. I’m thinking they are absolutely crucial to their landbases, that their landbases would die without them. I’m thinking of the words of one former professor of parasitology and invertebrate zoology, “The irony is that to support healthy bird populations, maybe [the birds] need to be infected with parasites.”

I’m thinking about a world far more complicated than any of us may dream.