Questions for ‘This parasite makes wolves more likely to become leaders’ 

three gray wolves standing in the snow

Gray wolves are more likely to take more risks when infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

Russell Burden/Photodisc/Getty

To accompany This parasite makes wolves more likely to become leaders


Before Reading:

  1. What is a wolf pack? What does it mean for a wolf to be the pack leader? How do you think a pack leader’s role differs from that of regular pack members? What personality traits might make a wolf more likely to become a pack leader?
  2. Do a quick internet search for parasites and write down one example. What is this parasite’s host? What benefits does this parasite get from its host? How is the host affected by this parasite?

During Reading:

  1. How does the decision-making behavior of infected wolves differ from uninfected wolves? How does being infected impact the likelihood of a wolf becoming a pack leader? How does being infected impact the likelihood of a wolf leaving its pack?
  2. Describe the organism known as Toxoplasma gondii. How does being infected with T. gondii affect the behavior of a mouse? In what species does T. gondii breed? 
  3. How many years’ worth of wolf data did the new study examine? How many wolves did these data cover? 
  4. How did scientists test whether or not a wolf was infected?  
  5. According to Ajai Vyas, what “crucial gap in knowledge” does this new study cover? 
  6. Besides wolves, what Yellowstone National Park predator can carry T. gondii
  7. What “long-term effects” are scientists planning to investigate in the future regarding infected wolves?

After Reading:

  1. Kira Cassidy, a coauthor of the new study, wonders about the effects of T. gondii infection on a wolf’s ability to be a good parent. What characteristics or personality traits do you predict would make a wolf a good parent? How might T. gondii infection affect a wolf’s parenting ability? Explain your answer, using information from this story to support your reasoning.
  2. Imagine you are a scientist studying mental health issues in people. You’ve just learned of the existence of parasites, such as T. gondii, that change their host’s behavior and decision-making. As a researcher, what questions do you have regarding parasites’ potential impact on human behavior? Write down one question. Then, come up with the idea for study you could conduct to begin trying to answer that question.