Featured Creature Friday: The Tongue-Eating Louse

I threw you an easy pitch last week with the Kakapo. It was cute and fluffy, as promised, and the worst thing it does really is shag the heads of eminent conservationists. But now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, I think it’s time to return to the world of general horror and creatures that will keep you up at night, dreaming the sort of dreams that make you stop breathing and occasionally wet yourself. And the place you need to look for that sort of experience is of course in the water, which as far as I can tell is occupied by nothing but animals that want to make you cry like a little girl. (I know what you’re thinking. Dolphins, right? Dolphins are made out of fun and joy! Well, dolphins murder things for fun and also they’re baby-killing rapists, so there’s that illusion shattered. You’re welcome.)

photo by Matthew R. Gilligan, Savannah State University / public domain

Luckily, in times like these, there’s Cymothoa exigua: the tongue-eating louse. It is exactly what it the name implies: it is a parasite that eats tongues. But it’s worse than that. Oh, friends, it is so much worse than that. Because what it does is it takes up residence inside a fish’s mouth (by crawling in through the gills), kills the fish’s tongue (it actually drinks all the blood from it and the tongue atrophies; the louse doesn’t actually eat it), and then it attaches itself to the stump and pretends to be the fish’s tongue. And the fish, poor bastard, doesn’t appear to know any better; because the parasite is attached to what remains of the tongue, it can actually use the thing like it is a tongue. It’s the only known parasite that actually functionally replaces a host organ. You’d think that maybe it would use this advantageous new position to take a cut of the fish’s food, like some sort of a louse mafia, but no… it’s feeding on either the fish’s blood or its delicious fish mucus (whatever fish mucus is). Now I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned that makes this thing the most psychopathic parasite ever. If it could talk, undoubtedly the only thing it would say is, “It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again!”

That’s about all there is to the tongue-eating louse. I don’t have any interesting reproductive facts or fascinating tidbits for you. It pretends to be a fish’s tongue. Really that alone is quite enough.

If you enjoy these features (and who doesn’t enjoy a good tongue-eating louse?) I want to point you to an excellent blog: The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange. They’ve even got a blog about the tongue-eating louse with even more horrifying pictures! The things they post about there are ever so strange, and extend to more than just creatures, so even when it’s not Friday you can learn something terrifying about your world!

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13 thoughts on “Featured Creature Friday: The Tongue-Eating Louse

  1. Thanks for sharing, I think. This was oddly engaging–I did read through to the end, but I am also glad I do not remember my dreams. Do you seek these creatures out to share with us, or just stumble upon them in some ofdd way?

    • A little bit of both; surprisingly, if you search for strange creatures, you get lots of lists with creatures that people aren’t really that unfamiliar with, like the okapi and the capybara. I happen across a lot of these animals when somebody posts about them elsewhere on the Internet, and some of them I know about from my reading (I read a lot of biology and nature books), but I’m always on the lookout. :)

  2. You are hilarious, and creepy, and strange, and awesome! I started following your blog because I adore the way you write about horses – I had no idea I’d be getting so much more in the bargain. Parasites wig me out, and yet somehow you manage to write about them in such a way that makes me want to poke that thing with a stick and then step back, giggling nervously.

    You had me with the horses; you’ve kept me with the louse.
    (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d see myself write.)

    • That’s a sentence I never thought anybody would write to me, either. :D But thanks, I’m flattered that you actually like me for my bizarre interests! :D I’ve promised my emotionally-scarred readers that this Friday’s creature will be cute and fuzzy. :D

  3. If it’s all the same, I’d really rather read about the Kakapo. Please?! :)

  4. egads I wish I hadn’t read this :P

    • Once seen, it cannot be unseen. I thought I was being kind of merciful not showing the first picture I saw of it though, in which it looks even more horrifying. I promise this Friday I’ll post some sort of creature that won’t make you want to assume a fetal position. ;D

  5. I know fish are supposed to be good for me, and every once in a while I’ll order some in a restaurant and try to enjoy it. Now these horrific pictures make them even more disgusting to me. Oh, how I hate this, yet every Friday I look forward to seeing your creature feature! :)

    • I’m terribly sorry. Sometimes fish is delicious, but I have a hard time with it myself… I’ve become SO picky about fish. Really anything seafoodish has to be perfect at this point in my life or I have texture issues with it. ;D I promise I’ll make this Friday’s creature something cute and snuggly again. :D

  6. That’s quite disturbing, but you introduced me to the gorgeous blue sea slug so I’ll forgive you :D

  7. Pingback: Featured Creature Friday: The Silky Anteater « Red Roan Chronicles

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