Parasites of the Imagination
Just the very word is enough to send shivers up more than a few spines, including my own.
Parasites are pretty much the definition of “ick.” They live on us, suck our blood, eat our dead skin, infect our organs, and have a terrible propensity for emerging at inopportune times (is there ever an opportune time?) from various body orifices.
Nobody wants a parasite.
Of course, some are much worse than others. I’m pretty sure no one ever said, “That tapeworm in my butt isn’t so bad.” Or “At least those amoeba on my contact lenses didn’t make me go blind.”
Parasites suck. Literally.
But as bad as they are for humans, they’re worse for animals. Check out this entry from ListVerse about the Tongue-Eating Louse.
“The tongue-eating louse—Cymothoa exigua—is one of the most disgusting parasites known to man. The louse enters its host (a fish) through the gills. Several male lice enter the fish at once and then one of these will develop into a female. The female will then travel to the host’s mouth where it attaches to the base of the tongue. The organ’s blood supply is cut off, causing it to die and detach.
“Now the parasite acts as the fish’s tongue by binding to the remaining muscle. It feeds off the host’s blood and also algae and mucus that it collects in its mouth. And what about the other lice? Well, they remain in the fish’s gill chamber and may occasionally leave their new home to mate with the female. The host fish is able to live with the parasite for years and apart from the obvious damage to the tongue, it remains relatively unharmed. The tongue-eating louse is the only known parasite that replaces an organ of its host.”
Read that last line again (after you finish choking on some vomit). “The only known parasite that replaces an organ of its host.”
There’s a lot we don’t know.
And here’s where the imagination of a writer can play havoc on a good night’s sleep.
Imagine if there are other parasites out there capable of replacing an organ. We know of other kinds of parasites that can take over brains (in ants, for example), and there are all sorts of worms, bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can affect brain and nervous function, the chemical activities of the body, and even hormones and electrical impulses in muscles.
How hard is it to imagine something that can grow from a single cell to a multi-cellular organ? After all, cancer often replaces organs and the cells produce all sorts of weird chemicals to disrupt the body. (In fact, I have a short story in my PC right now about just that very thing!)
Or, how about some freaky cousin of the tongue louse that can take over any organ it attaches to?
It seems god-awful, but remember, the tongue-louse doesn’t really harm its host. That fish lives for years (although its French-kissing days are over, and food never tastes good again). What if giant lice could be bred to mimic various organs? And thus replace an organ that’s in failure?
Instead of bionics, we’d have biotics.
How would people handle having a liver or kidney or pancreas replaced by a giant arthropod? Could you do it? All it wants in return is some of your blood, after all. Well, maybe a lot of it, since it would have to be pretty big.
Does the future of human longevity lie in the mouth of a fish?
Let’s hope we never have to find out!
Until next time … stay weird!