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The Creature in the Can is a What?

I love a good mystery, I love odd animals and I love tuna salad sandwiches so I’ve been watching this story about a strange but tiny beast found in a can of tuna to see how it turns out. It looks like it’s finally been identified. If you’re eating, you may want to stop or come back later. Done? OK, the little bug-eyed creature in the can is a tongue-eating louse. A what?

A tongue-eating louse

That’s right – a tongue-eating louse

Zoe Butler of Nottingham, England, saw the little pair of black eyes staring up at her a couple of weeks ago when she opened a can of Princes tuna chunks. Here’s how she described it:

I opened the top of the lid and saw a purply thing, a gut sack or intestine – then I turned it round and pushed it with a fork and saw it looking back at me. It’s got like a spiny tail along the bottom – it’s quite grim. I dropped the fork, jumped back, screamed a bit and shouted for my nan to come and have a look.

Zoe sent the photo and story to Princes and to her local newspaper. It hit the Internet and speculation on what it was ranged from a tadpole to the head of a turtle to a mutant tuna to an alien. Finally, Stuart Hine, Identification and Advisory Service manager from the Natural History Museum in London, chimed in with an identification (it’s his job):

From what I can see I would support the head of a tongue-eating louse, Cymothoa exigua, or similar.

Where there's room, there's two tongue-eating louses

Where there’s room, there’s two tongue-eating louses

The tongue-eating louse is a new one on me. Cymothoa exigua is a tiny parasitic crustacean that enters a fish through the gills and eventually attaches itself to the base of its tongue. From there it eats the tongue, drinks its blood and eventually (you did stop eating, didn’t you?) replaces the tongue completely and lives in the fish’s mouth for the rest of its life until it meets the big cannery in the sky.

That explanation is too gross for the people at Princes, who told Zoe the critter is the head of a tiny immature crab. It still shouldn’t show up in a can of tuna but it at least sounds better than a tongue-eating louse.

Excuse me while I put a few scenes for a tongue-eating louse to my next horror movie script.

Jabba the Louse?

Jabba the Louse?

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  • Guy Weddle

    They did make a horror movie about this a few years back called The Bay. Pretty good too.

  • That’s not the same creature at all….

  • maya

    The news didn’t say if this little bug looking thing seemed like it was still alive or not. I would hope not, however, I believe that tuna is supposed to be steamed/pressurized cook before canning, right? Strange how those bright little eyeballs survived the steamed/pressurized process, and makes one wonder, what exactly is, indeed, in a processed can of tuna-fish these days?

    I wonder if those tongue-eating louse have EVER been known to infect humans like they do fish? (Note too, that the fish in the lower picture has human like teeth and my son told me that he had caught a fish in the Sea of Cortez, during a fishing competition that had teeth just like humans do, ugh!!! I would have thrown it back in the sea, thinking perhaps that kind of fish might be a distance relative of the human race, or something like that, worse yet, sort of biblical, like a siren off-shoot critter.

    At any rate, I bet we all inspect our cans of tuna fish a heck of a lot closer in the future.

  • Andrew Spiesz

    Yes but are they edible?

  • Denice McIntosh


  • Lynn

    Hopefully when the fish is cleaned and gutted and head cut off, that will be the end of the bug

  • Lynn

    Some times the tuna is canned, then cooked

  • Lynn

    Tuna is not a pretty fish, but if you sear a tuna steak for one minute on each side, it is heavenly

  • Chris Retsamwob

    How bout taking a good hard look at the creature in the can and comparing it to the louse found on the tongue’s of the fish,… it is painfully obvious that it is two completely different creature’s

  • Ginger McNulty

    Wow! I’m never eating tuna on acid again!

  • Jim

    Hmm. I had been thinking lately about switching to a vegetarian diet. This may have tipped the balance.

  • Dawn Therese Saucedo Bowling

    photoshopped and not even good u can see the body outside the can for goodness sakes

  • namz

    I think that’s the pattern of the tablecloth, but always good to be wary of such things. This however- speaking as someone who designs and uses photoshop regularly – doesn’t look like it’s photoshopped.

  • Bryan Ezzell

    Probably a pacu. They have teeth that look human.