Weird Fishes

Have you ever stopped to consider how awesome parasites are? While it’s not cool to be the host, per se, the absurd creatures that fall into this category are certainly worth our awe. I wanted to share with you not a bizarre mating story, though there are a fair share of parasites yielded from those. No, this is a story about a bond much greater than that formed between mates.

Our subject: the tongue-eating louse, Cymothoa exigua. This is a bit of a misnomer – more like, tongue-eroding-by-cutting-off-the-blood-supply-and-eventually-replacing-its-host’s-tongue-entirely!! But that’s a mouthful.

This terrifying crustacean enters a fish’s gills as a larva and attaches to the base of its tongue, where it starts to leech its host’s blood supply. Over time, it develops into a nasty, overgrown lice, engorging on the fish’s blood at the expense of the tongue. The tongue withers, and who else to take its place but the lice? Not only does it continue to feed off the fish’s blood supply, it also devours anything the fish attempts to eat. Check out this hijacked fish tongue!

Cymothoa exigua (Photo Credit: Dr. Nico Smit)

Cymothoa exigua (Photo Credit: Dr. Nico Smit)

Nom nom nom. How would you like to find that in your sushi?

Oddly enough, the fish survives despite the malnourishment, and they live happily ever after. True story. Why this didn’t make it into The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo, I’ll never know.

From an evolutionary perspective, it is often a bad thing for a parasite to kill its host. If it is sustaining itself off of the life of another individual, shouldn’t it do everything in its power to make sure that individual remains alive? This isn’t true for all parasites, particularly ones with multiple hosts and complicated life cycles. Seems like this parasite’s a keeper though, so cuddle up!

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