Remember this terrifying little guy?
@NottinghamPost can you tell me what this is? Nearly fed this to my children!! From Princes tuna chunks can pic.twitter.com/IHNw1PdFnO
— Zoe Butler (@zoelouisebutler) January 19, 2015
Ever since Nottingham, England woman Zoe Butler shared these nightmare images of the contents of her can of tuna with the Internet, people have been trying to puzzle out the exact taxonomy of the hideous little monster contained therein.
Well, due to the keen eye of someone at London's Natural History Museum, the mystery appears to be solved.
Please, take this advice to heart: do not continue scrolling down if you value your peace of mind.
Still here? Very well.
What we're dealing with here is a parasitic crustacean found in many fish called a Cymothoa exigua, or "tongue-eating louse."
But don't worry, that name isn't strictly accurate. It doesn't actually eat the tongue of the fish it feeds off of. It more so destroys the tongue and then lives in the fish's mouth as a sort-of replacement tongue. Here, I'll let Wikipedia explain because blech!
"Cymothoa exigua 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 appears that the parasite does not cause any other damage to the host fish."
This tiny abomination lives inside the fish's mouth, acting as an ersatz tongue, feeding off its host's blood and/or mucus.
According to the Natural History Museum's Stuart Hine, the Cymothoa exigua tends to target species of fish much smaller than tuna, so this specimen was probably living inside the mouth of a fish that the tuna had eaten shortly before it was pulled from the ocean, chopped up and jammed into a can that was almost fed to the children of Zoe Butler.
Hey, is anybody else getting hungry?