Researchers at the University of Johannesburg are examining fish lice as a potential early warning parasite for fresh water polluted by toxic heavy metals. The fish louse Argulus japonicas is a crustacean which swims to find a host and lives on the skin of many species of fish. Since the parasite infects the skin of its host, it can be removed safely and studied. Argulus lice found on yellowfish and mudfish in the Vaal River of South Africa were analyzed and found to have higher concentrations of heavy metals. Further research is needed on the fish lice before they qualify as a reliable indicator of polluted water.
“If Argulus japonicus fish lice succeed, they could become sensitive, living metal indicators in the future. That way, we could detect metal pollution long before fish are affected. There could still be time to do something about it.” – Professor Avenant-Oldewage, Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg