Tongue-Consuming Louse Really Eats Tongues

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There are plenty of ocean animals on the market that make you assume, “what the heck … ?” You’ve the hagfish with its slime that’s 100,000 occasions softer than Jell-O. You’ve the deep-sea lizardfish which is a big-toothed, sex-switching, stealth-attacking predator. You even have the gulper eel which works from “common wanting eel” to “nightmare gasoline” in a matter of seconds.

However maybe nobody takes the “bizarre and wild” cake just like the tongue-eating louse. The identify speaks for itself: this pesky parasite makes its means on this planet by consuming different animals’ tongues.

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You’ll have gone your complete life with out understanding in regards to the wonders of the tongue-eating louse, however that ends at this time. So buckle up, clamp your jaws shut and browse on to study extra about this uncommon isopod.

What’s the tongue-eating louse?

The tongue-eating louse (Cymothoa exigua) is an isopod, or sort of crustacean, discovered within the Cymothoidae household. They’re parasites, that means their survival relies on, and is detrimental to, one other “host” organism. They’re additionally not the one parasites on the Cymothoidae household reunion—cymoithoids are all ectoparasites, that means they dwell on the skin of the host somewhat than the within, and largely goal fish as hosts.

Tongue-Eating Louse inside Clown FishTongue-Eating Louse inside Clown Fish
© Christian Gloor

The tongue-eating louse is discovered within the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and solely grows to about an inch in size. They’re protandrous hermaphrodites, that means they begin out as males then change to females later in life. Naturally, that signifies that females are bigger than males. It additionally seems that it’s the feminine that offers the parasite its iconic identify.

Right here’s the way it works: a juvenile louse will sneak in by way of a fish’s gills, the place it should wait for an additional louse to indicate up. As soon as there are two or extra, one in every of them will develop and alter right into a feminine. The feminine will crawl out of the gills, up through the throat to the mouth the place it should clamp down its sturdy legs onto the fish’s tongue. Every leg has a specifically developed sharp appendage that enables it to safe itself tightly.

Now the enjoyable begins (for the isopod, not a lot for the fish). The feminine stays put and cuts the blood vessels within the tongue. With out blood flowing to the organ, the tongue will ultimately wither away and fall off, leaving solely the parasite in its stead. The feminine will then proceed to feast off the fish’s blood and mucus, completely satisfied as a vampiric clam.

As soon as she is established, the remaining male within the gills will mate with the much-larger feminine, who will then spew many tiny new parasites out of the fish. These recent bundles of terror will drift alongside till they will additionally safe themselves within the gills of one other unsuspecting host.

What occurs to the fish?

Imagine it or not, this extremely invasive exercise doesn’t kill the fish. It’s not an excellent time, to make sure, however the fish is ready to use the parasite like a prosthetic organ. They occupy a number of species of fish, together with menhaden, snapper and different commonly-caught species (so preserve a watch out the following time you’re fishing on trip).

In case you’re apprehensive that you simply may lose your tongue after a fast dip within the ocean, don’t be. The tongue-eating louse doesn’t infect people (though should you actually wish to preserve your self up at evening, feel free to read more about mouth parasites humans can get). Nonetheless, they is perhaps within the fish you order from the seafood market—so at all times look your non-gift fish within the mouth!

The publish Tongue-Eating Louse Actually Eats Tongues appeared first on Ocean Conservancy.

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