Courage is often a desirable virtue, but we must not forget caution. With careless behaviour, we can quickly find ourselves in danger.
Animals, for example, are often more careful near predators, as such behaviour increases their likelihood of survival.
However, perceptions of danger can change due to fatigue, hunger, toxins and parasites.
Such a parasite is, for example, Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the disease toxoplasmosis. It is common in domestic cats and can be transmitted to humans.
It is especially dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause more serious complications in babies.
Toxoplasmosis is also found in wild cats in the wild.
Scientists have been researching how it affects the behaviour of hyenas in Kenya for thirty years.
They focused mainly on cubs under one year of age. At this age, they are still very helpless, and the infection has the greatest impact on them.
»Mothers spend a lot of time on the safety of their cubs. They are cared for for about a year, but the cubs are not completely independent until they are two years old or older,« says the co-author of the study, Dr. Zach Laubach.
Scientists have found that toxoplasmosis-infected cubs are braver near lions than uninfected cubs.
Too much courageous behaviour makes it easier for you to attack them. Careless cubs find it harder to withdraw.
At such a young age, pups need to rely only on caution and, due to inexperience, are easy prey.
The researchers were therefore not surprised when their calculations showed that more than 80 percent of the cubs that died from the lion’s attack were infected with toxoplasmosis.
Interestingly, no changes in behaviour were observed in hyenas older than one year, even if they became infected with toxoplasmosis.
Points to Consider
- What is a parasite?
- Why is it important to be careful?
- Has courage ever paid off for you?
The original version of this article was published on August 5th.