An Awful Animal Allegory

” Allegory = a story, picture, or poem that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning – typically a moral or political one.”

Oxford Dictionary

Beware, the material you are about to read is true and graphic and can be verified by any google search or research in science and nature, especially that of Parasitology – the study of parasites.

The poor snapper and carpenter fish are common hosts for this parasite, “cymothoa exigua” – or as it is affectionately called, the tongue – eating louse. It is a parasitic isopod (a crustacean with a body of seven segments each bearing a pair of legs). Growing a from 8 – 20 mm long, it is usually found in the ocean in the gulf of CA to Ecuador and parts of the Atlantic, in depts between 6-200 feet, but also identified in ground water, caves and even deserts.

tongue-eating louse
cymothoa exigua

That’s the animal part, now here comes the awful part.

This little louse lives in and around the gill of a fish. They are all males until maturity, at which time he may change to female. (protandrous hermaphrodites) This female then, enters through the gills into the fish’s mouth, and anchors herself to the tongue of the fish with her 7 pairs of scorpion like stinger legs.

With her 5 sets of jaws, each with long, lance-like teeth, she slowly drains the blood from the fish’s tongue until it antrophies from the tip to the back.

Having severed the fish’s blood supply, the tongue will eventually fall off leaving only a muscular stub. The parasite replaces the fish’s tongue by attaching to the muscles of the tongue. The louse has now effectively and functionally replaced the hosts organ.

As she eats the steady stream of nutrients from the fish, it too is still able to gain enough nutrition to survive with the parasite having replaced its tongue.

The slow and small blood loss doesn’t harm the fish, and the replaced tongue actually becomes sort of a prosthetic for the fish. The male parasites, still outside on the fish gills, will join her and reproduce, eventually having babies on the parasitic tongue of the fish.

After producing her babies, she will eventually release them to the sea for their survival. She will eventually release herself to the sea where, because she is now unable to swim, will herself die. A fish without a tongue has no chance of survival and too will soon die. Both the parasite and the fish won’t survive, this is a picture of true parasitism.

Tongue-eating louses are not harmful to humans (unless you see the movie, The Bay, 2012) but there once was a lawsuit against a large supermarket chain, in which a client ate a cooked snapper and claimed the tongue-eating louse (in the snapper) poisoned him. The suit was dismissed.

From this awful animal allegory of cymotha exigui, may we each gleen the hidden meaning intended for us to not become the clown that yields to a parasitic take over of our tongues and speech.

Cheers to you,


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