I'm here today to talk about a very strange paper: Penetration of the oral mucosa by parasite-like sperm bags of squid: a case report in a Korean woman.

This study, published in February in the Journal of Parasitology (?!), presents the tale of a woman eating squid who experienced "severe pain" and a "pricking, foreign-body sensation" in her mouth. A doctor found and removed "twelve small, white spindle-shaped, bug-like organisms" from her tongue, cheek, and gums.

These foreign bodies were subsequently identified as squid spermatophores, which I would like to point out are not "organisms" in any way. A squid, a human, a tree--those are organisms. A spermatophore is like a cup of semen--nothing more than an aggregation of gametes. And "bug-like"? Spermatophores don't have legs. Or eyes. Or exoskeletons.

But that's not to say they aren't complex structures. (That's why squid researchers tend to translate "spermatophore" as sperm package rather than sperm bag.) Each spermatophore includes an ejaculatory apparatus, which can expel the sperm mass quite forcefully, and a cement body for attachment. Of course, neither of those is a needle or a knife--the sort of thing you'd expect to need for actual implantation (into either a female squid or a human mouth). I've written a bit about this mystery before. As it turns out, no one is quite sure how spermatophores implant themselves into skin.

But whatever the details, it's happened to humans more than once. An earlier case study reports "sperm stings" from consumption of raw squid, but the recent Journal of Parasitology paper is the first report I've seen of spermatophore activity in a cooked squid (parboiled, to be specific). That's . . . quite impressive, actually. 

In order not to leave calamari connoisseurs unduly freaked out, I should clarify two points. First, most Western squid preparations remove the internal organs and serve only the muscle, so there's no danger of accidentally ingesting spermatophores. Second, it's perfectly fine to handle spermatophores--just don't put them in your mouth. The skin on your hands, and most of the rest of your body, is much too thick to get stuck. I've probably had hundreds of spermatophores ejaculate on my fingers and never felt a sting.

Hmm. Does the pain that occurs when spermatophores inject themselves into human mucosa mean that insemination is painful for female squid? It's quite possible. But we'd have to know more about their nervous system to say for sure.

Writing this has reminded me of further studies on squid spermatophores, so maybe it will kick off a spate of posts. Aren't you just so excited?

H/t to Henk-Jan Hoving. Thanks . . . I think.