The Parasite That Wanted to be a Tongue

Why so quiet? Louse got your tongue? (Image courtesy Discovery News)

The past week or so has been pretty parasite heavy here at work -- and I'm not just talking about the ones that hide out in our workspaces, waiting to climb inside our bodies and hack the system.

I've written several pieces on the horrifying and fascinating world of internal parasites for Animal Planet's new "Monsters Inside Me" program. Screening a few episodes of the show and researching the articles really opened my eyes to the infectious world we live in. I distrust the cat now, cringe when I see barefooted children in the neighbor's yard and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to eat meat again unless I char the heck out of it. I guess that's the price of learning terrifying new things about the scientific world every day.

Of course, not all the nasty parasites I looked at depend on human hosts. Take Cymothoa exigua for example, one of the more fascinating and horrific parasitic monsters I got to write about last week. This thumb-sized sea louse crawls in through a red snapper's gills and latches on to its tongue -- which it then sucks dry like some nightmare flavor of Capri Sun.

At this point, the parasite latches on to the remaining stump left behind by the host's atrophied tongue and, yep, becomes the fish's new tongue. When the fish opens its mouth to feed, the louse reaches out to scoop in the grub, while apparently taking a few mouthfuls for itself.

This amazing creature has already inspired a poem, as well as this amusing animated short.

New episodes of "Monsters Inside Me" air Wednesdays on Animal Planet at 9 p.m. EST. Also be sure to check out the adorable-yet-horrifying game on the website, "So You Want a Pet Parasite."

Experience life with parasites with Monsters Inside Me: Can My Cat's Poop Kill Me? Can a Parasite Make Me Sexy? Are Parasites Controlling Your Brain? 5 Ways Parasites Hijack Their Hosts Menu Items Most Likely to Contain Parasites Meet the Parasites So You Want a Pet Parasite

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About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.