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The tongue-eating louse is an absolutely monstrous parasite that eats and replaces a fish's tongue. This of course poses a problem for mermaids; if these things evolved to do that for fish, why not mermaids? I think it goes without saying that this would be a pretty traumatic experience, and if this is possible, I want to do everything in my power to avoid it.

Therefore, my question is simple: In a world where mermaids exist, would tongue-eating lice evolve to parasitize them?

Specifications for best answer:

  1. The best answer will account for the fact that these lice, being parasites, will most likely evolve alongside mermaids while determining the feasibility of this sinister scenario, including the fact that mermaids, having human-level intelligence, will likely develop countermeasures if this would be a problem.
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    $\begingroup$ My understanding is that cmotha aren't species-specific... any fish of suitable size can be a victim. As such, I'm not sure that these parasites even have to evolve to target mermaids. It may be enough that they exist. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Sep 8, 2021 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say you should rephrase the title to match the content. People -including me- seemed to have remembered more easily the title, leading to not exactly what you want. Please be careful though, you should not invalidate existing answers. If too hard, ask a new question about evoluting lices instead, I guess? $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2021 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ (I have forgotten to add you could always match a little more the content with the title, too. As long as you don't invalidate the answers.) $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2021 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena: I edited and made my intentions clear in the comments I gave to answerers. What else can I do? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias I think you missed the target, officer :) : "Would tongue-eating lice evolve to parasitize them?" (content) and "Would Mermaids Be Affected by Tongue-eating Lice?" (title) are two, entirely different questions. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2021 at 2:07

8 Answers 8

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Mermaids have hands, and can physically remove the parasite before it eats their tongue.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the reason that humans don't generally have any parasites that aren't either microscopic in scale or live internally. As shown by our (evolutionarily determined) grooming habits, humans habitually do things like pick at scars, wounds, splinters, nostrils, teeth, etc to specifically avoid things like this. Primates in the wild groom eachother and pick out lice, and even animals less close to us, like cats or dogs, regularly groom by licking themselves. Fish are simply too stupid and incapable of doing basically any form of grooming. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Sep 8, 2021 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek: Not true: Fish will slough off old scales and external parasites by rubbing against stones/gravel. Other fish have symbiotic relationships with smaller fish that allows them to avoid the worst of it. It’s true it doesn’t solve the problem of louse in the mouth, but that’s not always because fish are stupid!! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Sep 8, 2021 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ This is a really good point, powerful in its simplicity, but for the sake of improving this answer, I must point out that these louses could have evolved alongside mermaids and developed strategies for evading removal. If choking is any indication, shouldn't it be difficult to remove a bug in the throat? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 8, 2021 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ Louses have plenty of other hosts, (you might even say that there's plenty of fish in the sea) so there's little evolutionary advantage in being able to parasitize mermaids. The kind of modifications needed to target mermaids are unlikely to help with other sea creatures, and mermaids have human-level intelligence, so they can respond faster than evolution. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2021 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias The throat is designed to move small, bug-sized objects down into the stomach. An object cannot remain in the throat long-term unless it is big enough or spiky enough to prevent the mermaid from swallowing and/or breathing properly. Killing your host by choking or starvation is not a good strategy for a long-term parasite. $\endgroup$
    – MJ713
    Sep 9, 2021 at 17:01
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No marine mammal is parasitised by these tongue eating isopods.

Mermaids are mammals. How do we know that mermaids are mammals? Because of those strategically located seashells.

Since mermaids are mammals and no mammals are parasitised by tongue eating isopods, tongue eating isopods will not eat mermaid tongues.

QED


In fact, tongue eating isopods are known to parasitise just a handful of species of fish, and the overwhelming majority of parasitic isopods out there don't use this strategy. This means that it is overwhelmingly likely that any marine species will not, in fact, have a species of tongue eating isopods that will infect them. It's not just mammals that exempt, it's basically everything in the sea. Turtles don't get them. Whales don't get them. Sharks don't get them. Rays don't get them. 99.999% of all fish don't get them. You don't need any special explanation for mermaids.

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  • $\begingroup$ As much as I appreciate your perspective, I have to ask: why these isopods don't parasitize marine mammals, instead only parasitizing a small number of fish? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias: I suspect a proper answer to that would fill a thesis. But nature is full of parasites with weird and unusual lifecycles that are seen only in a few species, or only in certain classes of animal. I don't believe we have any good understanding of why this happens and in the case of these isopods we have, AFAIK, basically no fossil record with which to track their evolution. There's a decent review of parasitic isopod diversity here - sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213224414000091 - if you're interested. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2021 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, thanks anyway, that clarified things greatly! It's funny, though, how we know so much and yet have so much to learn.... $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 10, 2021 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias it might be as simple as time... complex parasitic relationships take quite a while to evolve. Fish have been in the sea since before tetrapods started trotting about on land a few hundred million years ago, but whales and seals didn't return to the ocean until a few tens of millions of years ago. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2021 at 18:31
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Mermaid gills probably aren't attached to their tongues.

Despite its name, the tongue-eating louse doesn't actually eat tongues. It replaces them, after the tongue falls off as a result of the parasite cutting off the tongue's blood supply after they enter the body through the gills.

Since a mermaid follows a generally humanoid anatomy from the waist up, it's unlikely that their gills would allow access to their tongues like this. Additionally, it's likely that they'd develop methods of grooming their gill slots to protect themselves against parasites entering the body that way.

Also, these parasites are the approximately the size of the tongue they replace. I think that a mermaid would probably notice a tongue-sized parasite trying to burrow into its gills!

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  • $\begingroup$ As useful as this is, I must point out that these louses would most likely coevolve with mermaids....this will likely result in an arms race.... $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias an arms race which (as the current top answer points out) the mermaids would win due to... having arms! I'll let myself out. $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Sep 9, 2021 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Syndic: oh Syndic, you forgot something! The isopods have six arms, the mermaids have only two! Who's going to win, hmm? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias These louses also co-evolved with seals, whales, sea-lions, orcas and dolphins. This answer is valid in light of this fact $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Sep 10, 2021 at 8:20
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According to the Wikipedia the parasite does not really harm the fish. It just replaces its tongue.

Maybe your Mermaids evolve to actually require the parasite.

The evil kind of Mermaids is often depicted with fearsome teeth and fangs. What if this is actually a parasite and pristine Mermaids have no teeth and tongue at all?

It would be a symbiotic relationship. They could have some kind of ceremony where children receive their first parasite (after breastfeeding age of course).

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, an interesting take on the symbiotism idea! You may want to check Mel and Nepene Nep's answers, though, as your answer is very similar to theirs. I still value and appreciate your answer, I just thought you should know. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 22:08
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It would need to reduce the intelligence of the hosts.

Human intelligent level creatures would learn to remove the parasite once it grew to a certain size. You obviously want parasited mermaids, so to make it work, it needs to stop them removing the parasite.

It can do this by secreting chemicals into the blood that make the mermaid stupid, and hungry. This will reduce their ability to notice and remove the parasite.

'Zombie' Mermaids would be feared by other mermaids.

With their tongues removed, and parasites hanging out of them such mermaids would go feral. They'd hunt and kill to feed their parasite, and seek to spread their parasite with deadly kisses.

As such, most other mermaids would seek to kill them and destroy the corpses, to stop the spread.

Mermaids would develop grooming rituals to remove such parasites.

Daily checks would prevent the spread, with mermaids carefully checking gills or tongues for any parasites, and removing them. Apes do the same for lice in other's fur.

enter image description here

Mermaids can react faster than lice can evolve, but accidents happen. Stressed out mermaids might forget to groom, and then the zombie mermaids would spread.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I like how you elaborated upon Mel's idea there! All in all, it's a very intriguing idea. However, I've done some research on parasites, though, and I'm not sure it's possible for a louse to 'dumb down' its host via chemicals released into the bloodstream... $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ Alcohol and crystal meth both dumb down people who take them. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Sep 10, 2021 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ Granted, true, but how would a tongue-eating louse access something like that? They don't have the knowledge or resources required. All kidding aside, I'm not sure if parasites can do what you're suggesting. Don't worry though, I'll look into it. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 10, 2021 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ They would bite into the flesh, and inject whatever chemicals in the blood. Lice often inject various chemicals into the host when they bite them. Injecting a new chemical just needs a mutation. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Sep 11, 2021 at 7:57
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IANAEB (I am not an evolutionary biologist) but I think it is unlikely that a form would evolve which feeds the same way exclusively on mermaids.

My reasoning is the energy consumption. If you compare fish tongues and human tongues you will see that it would take much more effort to infest a mermaid than a fish. There might be some secondary strains of this lice that actually do feed on mermaid tongues but I would reckon that they remain a rare evolutionary oddity, appearing and disappearing rather randomly.

Unlike fish which only have fins, no hands, a mermaid can actively take countermeasures and thus massively raising the level of energy needed. Also fish might have countermeasures, like immune response, but those are much easier to overcome for the lice than being manually picked off the tongue.

Since these arguments, in my opinion, already apply to comparably early stages of the mermaids developement, I would say that the lice evolve to infest fishes.

I know that this is oversimplified but I found it helpful when designing creatures to mostly go by the energy consumption to determine their evolutionary viability.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the tip on energy consumption! I appreciate your logical argument and what it adds to my understanding! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 22:06
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Perhaps if the lice were symbiotic or provided some sort of benefit (either biologically or in terms of social standing or religious/cultural significance) to the mermaids, such that they generally wouldn't be inclined to remove them and may even purposely infest themselves and/or their families. Maybe like the mermaid equivalent of ritualistic circumcision or something? Or perhaps the lice could produce some sort of antitoxin that allows them to survive in waters the mermaids previously couldn't, and by infesting themselves the mermaids can absorb the antitoxin into their blood too. And perhaps the infested mermaids can produce sounds that can't be replicated by non-infested mermaids, thus excluding them from mermaid language and society?

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting idea, though likely hard to implement. These are freaky tongue-eating-and-replacing crustaceans, so they'd have to have quite the benefit for mermaids to keep them around....otherwise, great idea! Thanks and welcome to the site! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 9, 2021 at 22:00
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No the parasite is fish tongue eating where is mermaid's have human tongues.

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    $\begingroup$ How can the parasites tell the difference? Meat is meat $\endgroup$
    – user89947
    Sep 8, 2021 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Bryan McClure Your answer lacks details that would help the OP. You may want to edit. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2021 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ Surely mermaids have mermaid tongues? $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2021 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ If mermaids themselves evolved from fish, the fish parasites could co-evolve along with them. $\endgroup$
    – MJ713
    Sep 8, 2021 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ By far the best answer. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Sep 10, 2021 at 10:22

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