When I grow up, I want to be a tongue
There’s someone special I’d like you to meet.
Everyone, meet this sex-changing, tongue-eating parasite. Sex-changing, tongue-eating parasite, everyone.
If you are one who’s easily grossed out by things, this is your opportunity to abort from this post. Although this parasite may not be easy on the eyes, their biology is fascinating.
So Daphane, tell me more about this sex-changing, tongue-eating parasite.
Well, these parasites are called tongue-eating louses – or scientifically known as Cymothoa Exigua. They’re parasitic crustaceans that swim into the fish’s mouth, chomps away on its tongue, then becomes the fish’s new tongue.
Wait, what? How? Why? So many questions!
Let’s start from the beginning shall we?
Life as a tongue-eating louse begins as a male. When the male finds itself a target, it swims into the mouth via its gills, and turns into a female.
Here is where it gets interesting.
Using its seven pairs of claws, the parasite hooks her body on the tongue. She sucks blood from the tongue, she begins to grow, and the tongue withers away and falls off.
This is when she becomes the fish’s new tongue.
But when I say that the parasite becomes the host’s new tongue, I don’t just mean structurally. They also functionally replace their tongue too.
So yes, the host is able to use the parasite just like a normal tongue!
As humans, we have nothing to fear of these parasites (although if you pick them up alive with your fingers, they may bite. Yeah, don’t do that). The tongue-eating louse parasitise fish, and their favourite victims are red snappers.
The parasite doesn’t appear to cause the host any harm. The host carries on eating, and the parasite steals the leftover food in its mouth (sneaky buggers).
It’s important to note that this parasite changes sex only if there’s no female camping out inside the fish’s mouth – otherwise, the boys will be boys.
It’s easy to know whether the tongue-eating louse you’re looking at is a male or female.
Your ladies are noticeably much larger than your gentlemen parasites.
See for yourselves.
I found these parasites in your everyday snapper at the Queen Victoria Market. So next time you buy a fish, look inside its mouth! You may be in for a lovely surprise.
The female louse then has sex in the fish’s mouth, gives birth to a brood of male lice, and releases them to the environment.
And the whole cycle begins again!
Essentially it’s this:
– baby male finds fish
– swims into fish gills to the mouth
– becomes a lady
– eats tongue
– becomes tongue
– has sex in the fish’s mouth
– gives birth to male babies
– release into the ocean
Do you know of other strange animals? Please enlighten me in the comments!