The dirty little secret at the heart of nature is the parasite. For every animal we humans regard as noble—your tigers, your dolphins, whatever—there are thousands of these horrifying little monsters. So numerous are these microscopic tyrants that naturalists believe that an actual majority of animals might be parasites. It’s entirely possible that life on Earth exists solely to provide adequate hosts for our many, many parasites. And you thought looking at a starry sky made you feel insignificant.
Here are five of the weirdest that we know of so far.
Weird Parasites: Cymothoa exigua: Worst. Kisser. Ever.
Human beings can come to terms with some parasitic diseases. Malaria, for example, is refreshingly straightforward. You get bitten by an infected mosquito, you get sick and you (maybe) die. The parasite is just trying to weaken you to the point that you can’t swat the next mosquito that comes to drink your infected blood. It’s nothing personal.
Some parasites, however, despite being harmless to humans, make their living in such a gothic horror show manner that we really can’t be comfortable sharing a planet with them. Meet Cymotha exigua, the marine isopod that thinks it’s a tongue.