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whale lice

(family Cyamidae), any of a small group of highly specialized peracaridan crustaceans (order Amphipoda) related to the familiar skeleton shrimp found in shallow marine habitats. Whale lice are external parasites that live on the body surface of such marine mammals as whales, dolphins, and porpoises. They take refuge in skin lesions, genital folds, nostrils, eyes, and other external orifices, feeding on host tissue or fluid secretions. The body of a whale louse is stout and markedly flattened and measures about 2 to 15 mm (0.08 to 0.6 inch) in length. It has four or five pairs of powerfully hooked limbs and sharp ventral spines specially adapted for anchoring to the host. Eggs and young are carried in a ventral brood pouch. There are about 20 known species of whale lice, most of which belong to the genus Cyamus.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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