Suffolk: Tongue-eating parasites enter Britain through imported fish boxes

Tongue-eating parasites enter the UK through imported fish boxes

The “tongue-eating louse” is typically found in Mexico (Image: Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority)

A parasite known as the “tongue-eating louse” was discovered during a fish import.

Cymothoa exigua, a parasitic isopod, is typically found south of the Gulf of California.

The creepy creature can infect a fish and then sever the blood vessels in the animal’s tongue, causing it to fall off.

The parasite then attaches itself to the remaining “stub” and becomes the fish’s new tongue.

Port authorities in Suffolk were recently shocked after discovering the rare Cymothoa exigua in an import container.

The blind isopods had managed to enter Britain in the bodies of sea bream fish.

They were spotted in Felixstowe harbor by the Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority (SCPHA).

SCPHA, which carries out basic health checks on food and animal imports, was able to reject the shipment and send it back to its country of origin.

Cymothoa exigua parasites cut off and pose as tongues of imported sea bream. Discovered during a health check by SCPHA.

The Cymothoa exigua cuts and replaces fish tongues (Image: Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority)

The health hazard was discovered by the organization’s Danut Cazacu and Ashley Kemp.

Danut said: “Cases like these are clear reminders of why we work hard to investigate imports and ensure they are safe for human consumption.

“Many goods pass our health checks without risk, but sometimes we receive unacceptable shipments and we need to be prepared for anything.”

SCPHA first noticed something was wrong with the import intended for human consumption when its importer failed to complete the required paperwork.


Fortunately for humans, the parasite does not affect humans (Image: Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority)

A routine health check then revealed the parasites.

Upon opening and examining a cardboard sample from the container, Danut and Ashley discovered the dead Cymothoa exigua nesting among the fish.

Danut said: “Investigations will be conducted at our discretion. So if we determine something is wrong, we can unload a larger portion of the shipment for further investigation.

“After checking more boxes it was found that most sea bream was infested so we refused entry into the UK.

“From there, the importer can choose to have it destroyed or sent back to him, and in this case he has chosen the latter.”

Official veterinarian Danut Cazacu, who discovered the parasites, at the SCPHA testing facilities.

Vet Danut Cazacu spotted the find (Image: Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority)

Cymothoa exigua has rarely been spotted in Britain.

In 2014, a Morrisons shopper was rewarded with a bottle of wine after spotting the parasite in his fish dinner.

The following year, a bizarre creature at the center of what was dubbed the “Tunagate” also turned out to be Cymothoa exigua.

Zoe Butler, 28, made the frightening discovery after buying a can of Princes tuna from her local Asda in Arnold Nottingham.

East Suffolk Council, SCPHA and its 130+ team members screen over 80,000 shipments each year to ensure imports are fit for human consumption.

The organization says high food standards, ship sanitation certificates and infectious disease control prevent creatures like the blind “tongue-eating louse” from making it onto plates or store shelves.

SCPHA operatives also recently found a Giant River Prawn in Felixstowe Harbor with limbs up to 16 inches long.

The giant freshwater shrimp is one of the largest in the world and has been known to grow between 30 and 50 cm.

A giant river shrimp found during a routine health check of an import by SCPHA

The Giant River Prawn found during a routine health check (Image: Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority)

The long-limbed visitor to the port of Felixstowe was noticed during a routine inspection in May.

Port Health Manager Richard Jacobs said: “Well done to Danut, Ashley and our other team members who were involved in detecting and handling this import.

“We don’t find imports infested with parasites every day, but we are always prepared and ready to take action.”

“The giant river shrimp passed our health checks with flying colours, so you never know what you might find.”

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Justin Scacco

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