Life Cycle

The life cycle of linguatulids involves two hosts. Larval development occurs in an intermediate host, which ingests eggs contained in the sputum, feces, or body cavity of definitive hosts (Hobmaier and Hobmaier, 1940; Cheng, 1986; John and Petri, 2006).

Intermediate host
Eggs (90-70 microns) contain fully formed larvae. Females produce many eggs—several million—which are passed from the nasal discharge of definitive hosts (e.g., carnivorous reptiles, birds, mammals) to water or vegetation. Intermediate hosts (e.g., fish, cattle, sheep, rabbits, rodents, ungulates) then ingest infected water or vegetation. Eggs hatch in the intestine of intermediate hosts releasing the larvae, which then burrow through the intestinal wall and lodge themselves in the liver, lungs and other viscera. Within the viscera, the larvae mature to a pupa-like stage, then to a nymph (infective larva) stage in which hooks, annular rings, and spines develop. After maturation to the nymphal stage, the infective larva migrates to the pleural cavity (Hobmaier and Hobmaier, 1940; Cheng, 1986; John and Petri, 2006).

Definitive host
If the intermediate host (e.g., a fish, cow, sheep, rabbit, rodent, ungulate) is then eaten by a natural definitive host (e.g., a carnivorous reptile, bird, mammal) the infective larva migrate to the nasal cavities where they mature into adults. If the intermediate host is not eaten by a natural definitive host, there is no observed migration to the nasal cavity. Rather, the infective larvae migrate to the intestines, penetrate, and exist within the body cavity (Hobmaier and Hobmaier, 1940; Cheng, 1986; John and Petri, 2006).

Human host
Although cases of linguatulosis in humans is rare, humans may serve as both intermediate and definitive hosts—upon ingesting infective eggs and infective nymphs, respectively—for linguatulids (Ma et al., 2002).

Transmission to humans occurs by ingesting vegetables or water containing linguatulid eggs, or infected snake meat, sheep liver, or visceral lymph nodes (Hobmaier and Hobmaier, 1940; Cheng, 1986; John and Petri, 2006).

Linguatulids reside primarily in the respiratory ducts of carnivorous reptiles, birds, and mammals (John and Petri, 2006).


Incubation Period
Clinical symptoms have been reported as appearing as early as 7 days or as late as several months after infection (Mehlhorn, 2004). In a life cycle study conducted using multiple animal hosts, performed on Linguatula rhinaria—a facultative parasite in humans and cosmopolitan parasite in livestock—eggs were demonstrated in nasal secretions following maturity within final hosts after 6 months. Adults lived about 2 years (Hobmaier and Hobmaier, 1940).


Figure 5. "Life cycle of Linguatula serrata (1) Adults live in the nose of dogs (and rarely of man). (2) Embryonated eggs are set free via nasal mucus and/or feces. The thin outer is left out in drawings, since it disappears soon. (3) If intermediate hosts swallow eggs, the four-legged primary larva hatches and migrates via blood vessels to the inner organs. Humans may also become accidental intermediate hosts. (4-11) Larval stages 211 are included in a capsule of host origin and grow after molts. When final hosts ingest raw (or uncooked) meat of intermediate hosts, the adult stages develop inside the nasal tract. Infected humans suffer from the AN, annuli; B, EX, extremity with a claw; MK, mouth hooks; IN, intestine; LA, primary larva; M, mouth; SH, inner eggshell; TH, thorns" (Mehlhorn, 2004).

Scott Ritter © 2006