Recently, when scientists X-rayed the head of a fish, they discovered a horrible escapist: A “vampire” crustacean had swallowed up, then replaced the host’s tongue. .
The stink-like isopod, also known as the biting louse or tongue-eating louse, continues to suck its blood from the fish’s tongue until the entire structure is dry. Then the real horror begins, when the parasite takes the place of the organ in the mouth of the still alive fish.
Biologist Kory Evans, an assistant professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Rice University in Houston, Texas, discovered a tongue bite when digitizing an X-ray of a fish skeleton. He shared photos of the surprising and horrifying findings on Twitter on August 10: “Mondays don’t usually have as many events like this,” Evans joked in the tweet.
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There are about 380 species of arthropods, and most target a specific fish as their host. according to Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa. This type of isopod enters the fish’s body through the gills, attaches to the tongue and begins to feed, releasing anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing. The parasite attaches to the base of the tongue with seven pairs of legs, reducing the blood supply causing the organ to eventually atrophy and fall off, according to the Australian Museum.
Since that time, the isopod body acts as a functional tongue for the fish, while the tongue-biting species continue to eat the fish’s mucus, according to Rice University. Blog about coral reefs. This partnership between a fish and its living tongue can continue for many years; Stefanie Kaiser, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Atmospheric and Water Research in Wellington, New Zealand, in many cases, fish outlived the parasites that replaced their tongues. told the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Evans came across the fish and its creepy “living tongue” as part of an initiative to scan for a family of coral reef fish called wrasses, he told Live Science. The goal of the project is to create a 3D X-ray database of the skeletal morphology of this group of fish, providing it to researchers around the world, Evans said. He often shares examples of scans on Twitter, under hashtags. #backdatwrasseup.
That morning, “I’m doing something called digitizing,” he explained. “I compare the skull shapes of all these different fish together, which requires putting landmarks – digital markers – on different parts of the body.” In a particular seahorse, a herring (Odax cyanomelasFrom New Zealand, Evans noticed something strange in his mouth.
“It looks like it has some kind of insect in its mouth,” says Evans. “Then I thought, wait a second; this fish is an herbivore, it eats seaweed. So I pulled up the original scan, and worried and behold, it’s a tongue-eating louse.”
Mondays usually don’t have many events like this. I found a tongue-eating (purple) isopod in one of our alligator scans this morning while digitizing it. These parasites attach themselves to the tongues of fishes and become new … horrifying #backdatwrasseup pic.twitter.com/axlraUrh8W August 10, 2020
Evans told Live Science, even if the crows are not parasitized by these horrifying bites, they are still extremely bizarre.
“They have a second set of jaws in the throat, just like in ‘Alien’,” he said. “Crows can devour a snail, and then they can actually generate enough force with the second set of jaws to crush the shell in the throat.”
Some parrot fish have a copper-reinforced beak that is hard enough to bite through corals. And slingjaw wrasse (Epibulus graphing machinecan launch its jaws up to 65% of its head length, to catch the evading prey.
“It’s like you see a Cheeto on the other side of your kitchen, and you just need to pop your jaw at it while standing in place,” says Evans.
Originally published on Live Science.