Ceratothoa imbricata, the South African relative of the parasite discovered off the Jersey Shore. Photo Credit: Dr. Nico Smit
There's been a spate of amazing animal discoveries recently--the giant rat-eating plants found in the Philippines, a huge woolly rat discovered in a volcanic crater--and now, yet another animal has emerged that could be right out of a sci-fi film. It's a bizarre creature that survives by eating its hosts' tongue and then attaching itself inside the mouth.The sea-dwelling parasite attacks fish, burrows into it, and then devours its tongue. After eating the tongue, the parasite proceeds to live inside the fish's mouth. There's a horror film waiting to be made about this thing. Surprisingly, the fish doesn't seem to suffer any severe impediment--just the loss of its tongue. And it seems to have no trouble surviving with its new, far uglier tongue.
While the isopod, a kind of louse, has been known to exist for a while now, discoveries of live specimens are rare. The BBC reports that "Fishermen near the Minquiers - islands under the jurisdiction of Jersey - found the isopod, a type of louse, inside a weaver fish." So no, the tongue-eater wasn't found in that Jersey. The Jersey Shore is still tongue replacing creature-free, if you stateside Northeasterners were worried about the thing ruining your late summer vacationing.
Now, the picture above is a relative of the one discovered off the Jersey shore -- the one causing the ruckus, Cymothoa exigua, looks like this:
Image Credit: NOAA
Not that you'd have to be too concerned anyways--the isopod isn't a threat to humans in the slightest, though it's reportedly vicious, and can deliver quite a little bite. One of the fishermen who found the creature described it thus: "Really quite large, really quite hideous - if you turn it over its got dozens of these really sharp, nasty claws underneath and I thought 'that's a bit of a nasty beast'." And while it can't seriously hurt people, it evidently doesn't like them: "It doesn't affect humans other than if you do actually come across a live one and try and pick it up - they are quite vicious, they will deliver a good nip."
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