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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Diner discovers exotic parasite
Tongue louse
The louse burrows into fishes' mouths and eats their tongues
A tongue-eating parasite found inside a fish dish in south London has been hailed an "extraordinary find".

Lewisham Council were called in when a south London resident found the creature in the mouth of a red snapper being prepared for a meal at home.

Dr Jim Brock, keeper of natural history at the Horniman Museum, has now identified it as a tongue-eating isopod, a type of louse.

The louse burrows through fishes' gills and attaches itself to the tongue.

It survives by drinking blood from the artery which supplies the tongue, Dr Brock said.
I have not seen this species in all my 13 years at the museum so it's a remarkable find
Jim Brock
Horniman Museum

Despite its feeding habits, the louse was described as being a "harmless natural phenomenon" by Councillor Andrew Brown, Lewisham's cabinet member for the environment.

The creature is believed to be the only one in the natural world which eats and replaces a host's organ.

Dr Brock said: "I have not seen this species in all my 13 years at the museum so it's a remarkable find.

"I suspect the tongue louse was either imported here in the mouth of the red snapper or perhaps it has started to breed in European seas."

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