Tongue Eating Parasite Found off Coast of Jersey Channel Islands

The planet Earth has many very beautiful things and some very ugly, horrific things. Few life forms are more ugly and horrific, however than the isopod tongue louse—a creature that resembles one of the mutant animals that scientists discovered,  photographed and quickly destroyed after the early atom bomb tests.

Horrifying ‘tongue eater’

The parasite known by the scientific name Cymothoa exigua burrows into a hapless fish, usually a snapper, which becomes a host as the parasite eats its victim’s tongue and replaces it with itself. [Photo]

Described as quite vicious, the tongue louse was found by men fishing near the coast of the Minquiers islands, a group of islands scattered off the coast of Normandy, France. The tiny group of islands is part of the Jersey jurisdiction of England.

The parasite is indigenous to warm Mediterranean and southern California coastal waters. Researcher Paul Chambers of the Société Jersiaise happened to be one of the fishermen and he eventually identified the bizarre creature.

A nasty beast

During an interview with the BBC Jersey News service about the surprise discovery of the horrible thing, Chambers said,”When we emptied the fish bag out there at the bottom was this incredibly ugly looking isopod.

“[It’s] Really quite large, really quite hideous,” Chambers admitted. “If you turn it over its got dozens of these really sharp, nasty claws underneath and I thought ‘that’s a bit of a nasty beast.'”

The host fish that it was found inhabiting was a weaver fish.

Quite a vicious thing

Taken aback by the monstrous appearance of the thing, Chambers at first struggled to identify it. His lack of familiarity with the creature was understandable as isopods usually grow to about an inch long living in fish while feeding off blood.

“I struggled for weeks to find an identification for this thing until, quite by chance I stumbled across something that looked similar in a Victorian journal.

“Apparently there’s not too much ill effect to the fish itself except it’s lost its tongue.”

Certainly it’s an ill effect for the poor fish that acquires one of those living nightmares in its mouth!

“It doesn’t affect humans other than if you do actually come across a live one and try and pick it up—they are quite vicious; they will deliver a good nip,” Chambers added.  

Other experts contacted at the University of Southampton agreed that Chamber’s identification was correct. The creature was a parasitic isopod. They mentioned that several were found off Cornwall during 1996.