The Fish and the Parasite

Let’s talk metaphors. (“Parables”, if you’re Biblically inclined.) A person, on the basis of some intellectual analysis or subconscious revelation, starts a religion.  Think of it as a fish. The religion is successful – the fish eats and grows. All that food passing through its mouth attracts a parasite that decides to live off the fish.

Now here’s the amazing real-world example: Cymothoa exigua, the tongue-eating louse:

Cymothoa exigua

The parasite has eaten and replaced the fish’s tongue, and now does the tongue’s work for the fish.

The tongue-eating louse is a parasitic crustacean. It enters fish through the gills. The female (who grows up to an inch long) attaches herself to the base of the tongue, and the male (up to half an inch) attaches to the gill arches beneath and behind the female. The louse extracts blood through the claws on its front, causing the tongue to atrophy from lack of blood. The parasite then replaces the fish’s tongue by attaching its own body to the muscles of the tongue stub.

The fish is able to use the parasite just like a normal tongue. It seems the parasite doesn’t cause any other damage to the host fish.

Once these lice replace the tongue, some feed on the host’s blood and many others feed on fish mucus. This is the only known case of a parasite functionally replacing a host organ. There are many species of Cymothoa, but only C. exigua is known to consume and replace its host’s tongue.

So, back to the metaphor. The parasite infiltrates the fish, and makes a good life for itself by becoming the fish’s mouthpiece…

That’s how a spiritual insight evolves into an organized religion. The guy sitting on the throne may not be part of the original concept at all.

Isn’t Nature wonderful?

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10 comments on “The Fish and the Parasite

  1. Brilliant. I’m impressed.

  2. that image is…rather terrifying.

    especially if you don’t like bugs in the first place XP

  3. Visions of Eternity says:

    I see this as a beautiful example of the evidence of the benevolent Creator’s guiding hand. This is a clear view of the Argument from Design. Nothing so elegant as a tongue, or a parasitic tongue replacement that feeds off blood and mucus, could have evolved without assistance from an intelligent being. As the watch comes from the watchmaker, the parasitic tongue louse must come from the parasitic tongue louse maker, who is Lord.

  4. Anonymous says:

    More proof of things being too complex to have evolved. What good is half a tongue parasite? Its all part of God’s plan. LOL

    • Yes. People who understand God’s plan intrigue me. All I know is, he likes to sit and eat popcorn while watching TV shows about children starving to death in Africa, but he doesn’t usually tell anybody why.

      If anyone doesn’t understand evolution, my recommendation is they go back to their school and ask a science teacher to explain it to them. It’s really not a difficult concept.

  5. And thanks to Pete Howe for sharing additional stories of bizarre parasites: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/06/science/06hopp.html?_r=0

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