The Tongue-eating parasite | Cymothoa Exigua

Tongue-eating parasite

Before we start talking about the nasty Tongue-eating parasite (Cymothoa Exigua). There is a large number of animal species in this world called parasites. These can be single celled organisms as well multi celled organisms. These creatures actually live on the body of other species, taking nourishment from that body upon which they are living. Such a relationship is called host parasite relationship. In this relationship the parasite depends upon the host solely and completely for food and nourishment. Many times they do not survive and die with the host, if malnourishment leads to death As they cannot survive on their own, their survival depends upon the nourishment from the host. These parasites can only survive on the host. If the host dies, there is very limited survival for the parasite; such is the nature of the parasite.

A Tongue-eating parasite

A type of fish tongue parasites known as Cymothoa exigua is a creature like a lobster of crab or an isopod. This is a marine animal or louse (a wingless parasitic insect that lives on the skin of the animals e.g. lice). The males and females are different in size that the males can grow to half an inch and the females can grow to almost an inch in length. Probably it is the only parasite that can replace an entire organ and keep functioning in its place. It replaced the whole tongue and replaces itself in its place. Aptly named, the tongue eating parasite in some fish species replaces and starts acting like the tongue.

A parasite that replaces fish tongue

You must be wondering what parasite eats fish tongue? These organisms called cymothoa exigua  and they are very versatile and can start acting like hermaphrodites. This usually means that they can change their sex in some time during their life cycle. Being a parasite that replaces fish tongue, it attaches itself to the blood vessels that connect to the tongue. Causing the organ to fall off, and it replaces and attaches itself to the vessels, nourishing its own blood supply through the host. Their life cycle begins in the fish’s gills. By attaching themselves to the gills of the fishes they stay there till they are mature. This process is continued by the changing of the sex.

What does a tongue eating louse do

You must be wondering what does a tongue eating louse do? Well after the maturation in the gills, the louse changes its sex and becomes a female from a male. This is why these tongue eating louse are known as hermaphrodites. (A hermaphrodite is a creature that shows both the characteristics of a male and female). This happens after it has developed or matured. From the gills of the fish, tongue eating louse then reaches towards the tongue and attaches itself there. Since it is a parasite that replaces fish tongue, it cuts off the blood supply of the fish tongue.

Does the tongue eating louse kill the fish

The Tongue-eating parasite (Cymothoa exigua) places itself in to the fishes mouth and attaches itself there. But to finish off its connection to the fish’s mouth and become functional, the tongue eating louse penetrates through a its biting power. This gives it the capacity to suck blood off the fish’s tongue. This creates the parasitic relationship of the host i.e. the victim and the tongue eating parasite or louse. With time the sucking of the blood off the tongue of the fish leads to the atrophy of the tongue. And as a result, with time the tongue will now fall off.

Now at this stage the Tongue-eating parasite (cymothoa exigua) starts it’s life as the tongue of the fish and works functionally as a parasite that replaces fish tongue. Now if you’re wondering does the tongue eating louse kill the fish, well no. The fish’s nourishment may be reduced and over a period of time this malnourishment might seem like this is leading the fish towards death. But this does not appear to be the case and the tongue eating louse does not kill the fish.

When the process of the attachment of the tongue eating parasite is complete, this louse is now in a permanent position holding the organ, the tongue which is now completely destroyed. The pictures of this and even the description is horrifying, but this is not deadly to the fish. It does not kill the fish. In fact the fish now has a new tongue which is unlike a replaced organ; alive. This is now a crustacean living in the fish’s mouth. A false tongue but functionally it is difficult to believe how the fish is able to eat and survive with such a large creature living in its mouth. This is wonder of nature that fish is able to thrive in such an environment as well.

Cymothoa exigua in humans

Although a clear case of science fiction stories, cymothoa exigua in humans does not occur and humans cannot get cymothoa exigua. Although it seems like a good movie story and many have made such films on this pattern. And no matter how much we would to hear a story of tongue eating parasite human, it simply is science fiction. Although there are some cases of tongue eating parasite found in a tuna can, and they have widely been circulated, but fact of the matter is even if a tongue eating parasite found in a tuna can it rarely can cause harm to humans, although have to admit. Must have been quite an experience. So this is the answer to the question can humans get tongue eating louse.

Prevalence

Although Tongue-eating parasite (Cymothoa exigua) in humans does not occur, it does occur in a lot of places where it affects the fishes there. Quite a lot actually, for example in parts of Atlantic ocean, Gulf of Ecuador. This tongue eating louse seems to affect about seven to eight species of fishes, even red snapper are often the victim of this parasitic isopod or fish tongue parasites. Red Snapper especially in the Costa Rica region, Colarado and the Jordanian region.

Read more about this nasty parasite here