Conflicting identifications for head found in tuna can

Princes tuna said the object found by Zoe Butler was a megalopia crab, but an expert at London's Natural History Museum said it's a Cymothoa exigua, a tongue-eating louse.

By Ben Hooper
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ARNOLD, England, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- A British expert said a strange creature discovered in a can of tuna is a parasite known as Cymothoa exigua, but the tuna company says it's a small crab.

Zoe Butler, 28, of Arnold, England, discovered what appeared to be a small head with two dark eyes in a can of Princes brand tuna she purchased in January and sent the creature back to the company for analysis.


The company contacted Butler Thursday and said the object was identified as the head of a megalopia, a small crab that had yet to reach maturity.

However, Stuart Hine, identification and advisory service manager at the Natural History Museum in London, said the object appears to be the head of a Cymothoa exigua, also known as a tongue-eating louse.

Hine said the creatures are parasites that enter the bodies of fish through the gills and attach to their tongues. He said the parasite was likely attached to a smaller fish consumed by the tuna that ended up in the can.


Cymothoa exigua, a tongue-eating louse, in the mouth of a Sand steenbras, (Lithognathus mormyrus). Photo by Marco Vinci/CC

"We could undoubtedly say more if presented with the specimen," Hine told The Telegraph.

Theories from users on Twitter, where Butler first shared photos of the object, ranged from an unhatched fish egg to the head of a very small squid.

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