Monday, November 4, 2013

The Most Horrifying Parasite: The Sex-Changing Tongue-Eating Cymothoa exigua

Parasites are truly fascinating organisms, albeit somewhat disturbing at times. These organisms exploit other living creatures by forming a non-mutual relationship for their existence (in essence, the parasite is the only one who thrives). This usually means that the parasite harms their host for their sustenance (feeding off them in some way or another, or using them to reproduce themselves). These creatures are prime examples of evolution, as they have to overcome the host"s natural survival defenses. Unlike predation (where a larger animal hunts and kills a smaller prey), parasites are typically are much smaller than their unfortunate targets. Moreover, they are commonly ignored in food web diagrams, but if they had a place, they would dominate much of the web. What"s more, without parasites, organisms may start to favor asexual reproduction, and genetic biodiversity in the form of sexual dimorphism (the distinct differences in both male and female counterparts of a species) could be lost or hindered. Some parasites can also possibly facilitate the exchange of genetic material between species.

We have covered parasites several times in past here at FQTQ, and this write up today may possibly be the most horrifying yet. There are plenty of parasitic relationships in the open ocean, but this little critter is the stuff of which nightmares are truly formed. We can be thankful that organisms like this do not consider humans as host species (not yet). I would like to introduce you all to the Cymothoa exigua, or the tongue eating louse.

Cymothoa exigua is an isopod (like crabs or lobster) and is a fish parasite. This crustacean is a marine-louse, if you will. And in my opinion, is the epitome of the horror (and the wonder) that can be found in nature. Females can grow to about an inch in length and males about half that. It is the only known organism to emulate an entire organ for its host species, in this case, the poor fish"s tongue. It primarily targets the snapper, but has be seen in 7 other other fish species when the opportunity arises.

Want to know where these parasites mate? Find out, and discover more amazing information at:

(be warned, the answer isn"t pretty)

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