SINGAPORE: A woman was preparing to cook a fish she had bought from a fishmonger when she found something unexpected in its mouth - a dead parasite about the size of her thumb.
"I was cleaning and gutting the fish, and when I pulled it out I thought: 'That does not look like a tongue'," said the woman, who wanted to be known only as Ms Chen.
While Ms Chen said the 3cm- to 4cm-long parasite was "a little freaky", she added that she was "more excited than alarmed" by the discovery.
“A couple of years ago, I read about a fish parasite and I was very intrigued because apparently it’s starting to spread. So I’ve been looking out for it the past few years ... It was quite surprising and exciting.
"I just turned it around and looked at its feet - the way they latched onto its host - it has little feet that sink into the flesh and they looked really, really creepy."
The louse-like creature appears to be a Cymothoidae isopod, a family of crustaceans that targets both marine and freshwater fish. Some species attach themselves onto the tongues of fishes, severing the blood supply there and causing the tongue to degenerate and fall off.
The parasite is "not so common", however, according to National University of Singapore lecturer Tan Heok Hui, who specialises in ichthyology, or fish science.
"To my knowledge, the isopod should not cause any harm to members of the public. They are usually found in the oral cavity of fish sold in markets and are usually dead," he said.
"If the fish has been properly cooked, the isopod - technically a small crustacean - would also be cooked."
A parasite in the oral cavity of a fish. (Photo: Tan Heok Hui)
He advised members of the public who find such a parasite in the mouth of a fish to discard it - which was exactly what Ms Chen did: She continued with cooking the fish after throwing out the parasite.
“I think it’s not dangerous, from what I’ve read. So I went ahead and ate it.”