Tongue Worm

Also called pentastome, the tongue worm is any of numerous tongue-shaped, soft-bodied, colorless invertebrates of the phylum Pentastoma that live embedded in the lungs, nostrils, or nasal sinuses of various mammals, reptiles, and birds, especially in tropical and subtropical regions [freedictionary.com]. In fact, the 70 species of tongue worms are found primarily in tropical and subtropical regions.

Occasionally the tongue worm can parasitise, but this is rare. Mature female tongue worm can reach up to six inches in length and 0.4 inches wide. Males are 0.8-1.6 in long and 3-4 mm wide. The mouth is located at the anterior end of the worm, and is has a set of hooks. These hooks make it possible for the parasite to attach to the tissues of the host. Many species of tongue worms have superficial ringlike markings. This gives them the appearance of being segmented.

Tongue worms have digestive and reproductive organs. These are the parasite’s only internal body structures. They also have certain glands. They do not have circulatory, respiratory, and excretory organs. According to Science.Jrank.org, the typical life cycle of tongue worms:

is that of Porocephalus crotali, whose adult stage lives and reproduces in the lungs of the rattlesnake, and whose larval stage is found in the muskrat and other hosts, which constitute the rattlesnake’s food. Following copulation, the female tongue worm releases her eggs into the host’s lungs. The eggs leave the host’s body in its respiratory secretions, and might be accidentally ingested by the intermediate host. In the digestive tract of the intermediate host, the eggs hatch to produce four-legged larvae, which superficially resemble the immature stage of a mite. The larva penetrates the wall of the host’s digestive tract, migrates to another tissue such as the liver, and encysts.

Once the intermediate host is eaten by another animal, the tongue worm is transferred to the new hosts digestive tract. Once it is in the digestive tract, it will emerge from the cyst and migrate up the new host’s esophagus and into its lungs. Once in the lungs of the new host, the tongue worm will mature.

Two other common genera of tongue worms are Armillifer and Linguatula. The genera have different final and intermediate hosts, but they have a similar life cycle. According to information obtained from Science.Jrank.org, zoologists consider linguatulids to be closely related to the arthropoda, and in some classifications the tongue worms are included in that phylum.

Tongue Worm Treatment

Once your pet or other animal has been diagnosed with tongue worms, your veterinarian will start him on a round of antihelminthic drugs. Antihelminthic drugs paralyze or destroy the worms, but do not completely eliminate the parasites from the animal’s body. Endoscopic surgery may be required as a follow up in order to locate the tongue worms inside the animal’s body and manually/mechanically remove them.

In some cases the infection can be severe, so tongue worm cannot be treated. In these cases, the veterinarian will recommend euthanizing the infected animal in order to prevent the spread of infection to other animals and humans.

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