The tongue-eating louse

Sea parasite that eats and replaces the victim fish’s tongue

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The cymothoa exigua is one parasite you wouldn’t want inside your mouth.

Commonly called the tongue-eating louse, it’s a parasite that enters a fish through the gills, and then attaches itself to the fish’s tongue. It does this by severing the blood vessels in the fish’s tongue, causing the tongue to fall off. It then attaches itself to the stub of what was once its tongue and becomes the fish’s new tongue.

What’s amazing (or disgusting) is that it really functions as the fish’s new tongue as it does not cause any other damage to the host fish. The fish is able to live about normally, albeit missing its original tongue, whilst the tongue-eating louse partake on either the host’s blood or the fish mucus.


An infected fish's tongue was replaced by the tongue-eating louse.
An infected fish’s tongue was replaced by the tongue-eating louse.


But don’t fret! According to reports, this is the only known parasite to sever and replace its host’s tongue. It is also not harmful to humans unless picked up alive, in which case they can bite.

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