Tongue-eating, sex-changing parasites aren’t strange enough, so Nova PBS has thoughtfully uploaded a You Tube video which explains the twisted life cycle of this bizarre species of creepy crawler using tastefully designed fabric puppets. Yes, I did just use the word “tastefully” in a story about tongue-eating parasites, and you would too.
The tongue-eaters in question are known to science as Cymothoa exigua or the tongue-eating louse, and they belong to the isopod family — apparently a large group of ickies related to woodlice and sowbugs, lovingly described in this helpful article from the University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science Education Outreach. Should you ever feel the need to seek out some isopods of your own, the Center informs us that they “breathe with gills, so they are restricted to areas with high humidity.”
And where would you get higher humidity than swimming through the gills of a living fish, where you then proceed to eat out its tongue and replace it with your own adorable self? Yes, those wild and crazy parasites really know how to live. The fish has little choice but to resort to using the louse itself as a replacement for the tongue it has eaten.
Still, you have to hand it to the good folks at Nova. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to make a film about tongue-eating parasites with what looks daringly like art house sock puppets.
But just in case you don’t appreciate your science lesson being performed by stand-ins, I have found another video, where a You Tuber called Paddleguyjas eschews the puppetry and actually posts live video of the tongue-eating louse kicking around haplessly after being removed from a fish he caught. Maybe this could be considered cruelty to tongue-eating lice, but then the louse wasn’t all that nice to the fish, was it?
Yum yum. “Jason” the Paddleguy said that he wouldn’t be eating the fish that came with a tongue-eating louse instead of a tongue. I wouldn’t either.