also known as the “tongue eating parasite” and dear god do I wish that was a metaphor.
I’m not gonna sugarcoat this for you. This is a crustacean—an isopod, more specifically—that enters through a fish’s gills, attaches itself to the fish’s tongue, destroys and eats it, and then replaces the tongue with its body. You may begin freaking out now.
deity of choice have mercy on your fishy soul.
the parasites are protandric hermaphrodites, meaning they can change their sex as adults. The juveniles are all male, and only one of however many get into the fish’s mouth turns into a female when it matures. The female, about twice the size of the male at 30mm long and 14mm wide (1.1 and .55 in), then clamps onto the base of the fish’s tongue and sucks the blood from it until it fuckin’ shrivels away, and then makes herself at home, attaching to the stump with her hind legs.
"Hey, MTV, welcome to my crib! Lemme show you around…"
the weirdest thing about all this is the fish doesn’t even seem to notice. It just uses the isopod as a tongue, not interfering with its normal fishy life at all, and the cymothoa just hangs out in its mouth, sucking its blood and eating its mouth-mucus (*shudder*).
oh shit oh shit they’re multiplying shit
the creepy little fucks have been found in the coastal waters of North and South America, from the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Ecuador. They’re found in water from as shallow as 2m (6.5ft) to 60m (200ft) deep. Now, allegedly, these parasites don’t infect humans (although they are known to bite).
which makes this behaviour SLIGHTLY less insane.
but my rampant paranoia insists: How would we know? Even if this specific parasite doesn’t affect us, how do we know there’s not something else in the deep that will crawl in our ears like in Wrath of Khan and replace a different internal organ? How would we tell? The fish doesn’t know, how can we be so sure we’d notice?
so anyway, yeah. Cymothoa exigua targets eight specific species of fish, including some that humans eat pretty regularly. So next time you buy a snapper from the local fish market or grocery, check inside its mouth—you might find a little bonus gift in there for you.
(also yeah IDK about you guys but I am super aware of my tongue in my mouth right now and it’s kinda freakin’ me out)