Cymothoa exigua on my mind

Photo by Matthew R. Gilligan

Today I’ve been particularly fascinated with Cymothoa exigua, the tongue-eating parasite. I first heard about it in an episode of This American Life a couple weeks back where scientist Carl Zimmer mentions an isopod that eats and then takes the place of a fish’s tongue. A fleeting moment of googling turned up many images of giant deep sea isopods, which gave me the heebie jeebies. I didn’t think of them again until this morning when I my uncle, who works for the Texas Marine Fisheries as a marine biologist, sent this photo of a giant isopod that had hopped a ride on an oil rig’s deep sea ROV.

When I passed the image on to a friend who I was chatting with on skype, I mentioned the tongue eating isopods. He ran a quick search for “tongue eating isopod” and all intelligible conversation ended for a good five minutes. He just couldn’t get over the idea. Some of the lolcats photos are pretty funny too [1][2].

Eventually I succumbed to reading the wikipedia page and found a link to a video of a live Cymothoa exigua. Watch through to the final minute. It gets creepier, with a complete dearth of explanation.


The humor and curiosity hit a brick wall, however, when in my louse-inspired meanderings I stumbled across this crushing image labeled simply “fighting dog”. Fun’s over, stop in your tracks. It’s amazing how perspective can come crashing down in unexpected ways. Given where I found it, this photo has probably circled the web a few thousand times. It should keep circling until people start doing more to prevent such cruelty.

Apologies for the odd tangent at the end here.

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