Poor Nemo!

by Matthew Cobb

Here’s a gorgeous photo of clownfish, which just won the photographer, Qin Ling of Canada, an award in the Behaviour category at the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition (click to enlarge) – you can see all the winners here.


Ling’s photo is entitled ‘Your home and my home’. Look closely at these Nemos. Look at their mouths. Those little eyes peeking out. They are not drawn on, as PCC(E) first suggested, nor are they Photoshopped. And they are not babies. They are isopods (like pillbugs or woodlice), which are parasitic. They eat the fish’s tongue, and then replace it, sitting in there, presumably getting first dibs on the food as it comes in. They occasionally turn up on people’s dinner plates when folk order fish and get a crustacean chaser.

The photography judge said:  “Six eyes all in pin-sharp focus, looking into the lens of the author … this was one of my favourite shots of the entire competition.”

Isn’t nature wonderful?


JAC: Let me add two references and two videos.  You can read Carl Zimmer’s take on these parasites at National Geographic, or Wikipedia’s entry on Cymothoa exigua, the “tongue-eating louse,” which appears to be the only species that does this.

Here’s a video, which has only one photograph:

Here’s another video with photos; it claims that this is the only case in which one organism replaces another organism’s body part:


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Something I had not heard of. Now, how long will it take to forget?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      I had forgotten but now I’ve remembered again, alas.

  2. GBJames
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Very unsettling. Stuff of nightmares.

    • bluemaas
      Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I’ll say, GBJames ! Crikey, .that. is just C R E E P Y !


  3. eric
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Ugh. I think these are two of JAC’s videos I won’t watch until after I’ve had a beer or two.

  4. veroxitatis
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Yeah, Goddidit. Cruel bastard!

  5. busterggi
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    It would still be horrifying but does the isopod have to look smug?

    • darrelle
      Posted February 15, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink


  6. sponge bob
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Something right out of the Alien movie

  7. Markham Thomas
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Me thinks we need to change the phrase “Cat got your tongue”…


  8. nickswearsky
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Well, many thanks for tonight’s nightmares.

  9. Posted February 15, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Enjoyed and sent to my budding scientist granddaughter

  10. Posted February 15, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    God works in mysterious ways!

  11. Gamall
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear Celestia, I wish I could unlearn that.

  12. rickflick
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m…speechless. Gulp.

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Another interesting thing: in the movie Nemo, Nemos’ mother dies in the first minute of the film. In real clown fish societies, his father, Morley, would convert into a female.

    • bluemaas
      Posted February 15, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Hhmmm. Likely you already know of this assessment of that matter: the father – IN – to – mother transformation inside that particular film is, Dr Sturtevant, rather hypocritical. Of the originator of the Disney Film Industries.

      Within “the first minute” for “Finding Nemo,” you state? Yes, that — that kill off the mother really, really early — is quite true of very many of the Walt Disney – films in which parents play a somewhat up – front role to a Disney film – theme. So often, in fact, that .to that point. very many of my friends have simply stopped taking to see any of these films their wee kiddos.

      Whilst a few sources state that the killing off of Ms Flora Call Disney, Mr Walt’s own mama, was an accident that caused him long – lived grief, other sources state that she had tried and tried and tried to have her children, both Walt and Roy, physically come to her home to help her out but, their later in statements begging off as their having been too, too busy to do so, they never did come.

      My own Grandfather Carl killed — my Grandmother Augusta — and himself sort of similarly haphazardly, 11 February 1949, vacationing by way of heading through Beaumont, Texas. In — and more importantly, because of, a (distracting) drunken stupor, when awakened (sorta) and smelling something unusual in the dark, he lit a match. A natural gas jet had inadvertently been pulled open — and spewing — down behind (y o u n g) Grandma’s and Grandpa’s hotel – room bed for hours afore. Smithereens.


    • Diane G.
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:43 am | Permalink

      When I kept a salt water reef tank I had a pair of Green-banded Gobies, which are protogynous hermaphrodites. The first individual I bought was already a male, the second was a young female. They bonded and she cranked out a spawn of larvae* once a week for over a year. Then, in less than a month, she became a he and then fought her heretofore mate to the death.

      *Eggs, actually, of course. After the egg-laying the male tended them for a week in his nest until the larvae hatched, at which point he gathered a few in his mouth at a time, removing them from his nest and spitting them out into the water. At which point the female would eat most of them…

      Very cool fish!

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:49 am | Permalink

        & sub

        (The stupid subscription box is a good example of so-called intelligent design!)

      • GBJames
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        “Then, in less than a month, she became a he and then fought her heretofore mate to the death.”

        Sex is a social construct!

  14. Pital
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    God did it???
    Only that is enough to see there is NO GOD, or it (IT) became crazy from the very begining….

  15. Posted February 15, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t see the isopods until a second look.
    I had known nothing about them before. I wonder if there is any symbiotic benefit to the Clownfish, or if the isopods are exclusively parasitic. At least with bacteria, etc., in humans some provide benefit to their hosts.

  16. Posted February 15, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Great photo!
    I have included a photo of Cymothoa in my lecture about evolution of mouth and tongue. My colleagues abstain, find it too spooky. Many of the above commenters would agree.

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    As noted by the commenters above, just another nail in the coffin of the ‘benevolent Creator’.

    And something I shall do my best to forget.

    Remember Rule 34? *
    I’d propose a similar Rule – “If it’s creepy, viciously and gratuitously cruel, gross, nauseating and horrific, then Nature will have done it”.


    (* Rule 34 – “If it exists, there is porn of it”. I think we just found some counterexamples to Rule 34, I can’t imagine anyone getting off on this…)

  18. keith cook +/-
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Without a tongue, what a bland world it would be..
    There is this trematode, Trematode,Neophasis sp that eats out the gonads (male & female, their not fussy)and the penis of the common whelk, Buccinum undatum, in the case i read about here:
    All part of the little bleeders life cycle, it also mentions the tongue eating of fish (does not mention what fish) and an orgy in the mouth of said fish… jeeze! no wonder alien’s don’t visit us.

  19. Diane G.
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    One wonders what clown fishes’ original sin was.

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