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Flathead catfish by Eric Engbretson/USFWS. New parasite (inset) by Eric Leis/USFWS.

Flathead catfish by Eric Engbretson/USFWS. New parasite (inset) by Eric Leis/USFWS.

Discovery of a new parasite honors scientist’s mother and father

After I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I always intended to write my parents a card to share my appreciation for all their help and support. With regret, the moment slipped away from me and the card was never completed. Years later I now have the opportunity to make amends. I am pleased to say that a new parasite has been named to honor my father and mother, Michael and Alice. Ligictaluridus michaelalicea is a small parasitic flatworm that measures approximately 1 millimeter in length and lives on the gills of flathead catfish in the upper Mississippi River. While it may fall short of a Hallmark card, it’s the best way I know to express my gratitude for the way my parents fostered the scientist in me from an early age.

Looking back on my formative years, I am very thankful for my parent’s guidance. Growing up on a family dairy farm in western Wisconsin, every morning and evening was spent in the barn milking, feeding and caring for the animals. I was always interested in the outdoors and the time to explore nature came between chores. My parents encouraged my interest in science, especially biology. They helped me find library books, science textbooks, chemistry sets, and work through science fair projects. In the dark ages of VHS, they also took the time to record episodes of Nature and PBS specials on microscopy.

In middle school, my parents gave me a microscope for Christmas. It was something that I had always wanted and it changed my view of the world. I was thrilled to examine everything under high magnification. My parents were often right there with me looking at everything from houseflies to fingernails, plant parts to ticks, and anything else that could be squashed between a slide and coverslip. One night when it was snowing, we kept trying to bring the snowflakes into the house to view them under the microscope, but they would melt before we were able to examine them. We ended up going outside together to look at snowflakes in the dark, bitter cold. To this day I can still remember how amazing the snowflakes looked through that basic microscope.

To summarize, I am thankful to my parents for providing these simple, but impactful, experiences which led me to my career as a biologist. As a child, I spent many days in the cow pasture catching bugs, often imagining scenarios involving new discoveries. To my mother and father, the discovery of Ligictaluridus michaelalicea is in thanks to you.

By Eric Leis
La Crosse Fish Health Center

A young Eric Leis (left) shows off his first microscope. Today, Eric is a parasitologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service La Crosse Fish Health Center. Photo courtesy of Eric Leis.

A young Eric Leis (left) shows off his first microscope. Today, Eric is a parasitologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service La Crosse Fish Health Center. Photo courtesy of Eric Leis.


Last updated: June 8, 2020