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!