Who's Winning - Your Supply Chain or this Parasite?

Optimized supply chain perfection or a parasitic life cycle?

Supply Chain Bug
Supply Chain Parasite. Getty Images

Sometimes, life can be a metaphor for supply chain.  And sometimes, life shows you something so perfect that even the supply chains of Apple or Amazon must bow down to it. 

Allow me to present the parasitic nematode genus Anisakis. 

Like me, I’m sure you spend the majority of your day staring into space and dreaming up fanciful ways that supply chain seeps into your existence.  That movie about the astronaut stranded on Mars?

  Check.  A 1977 custard-colored Ford Granada?  Check.  Nobel Peace Prizes?  Check. 

Okay, I’ll admit, sometimes I stretch.  There is no reasonable way that a Nobel Peace Prize has anything to do with supply chain.  And I might be the only person who watched The Martian and thought, “Wow, those supply chain scenes were so clearly CGI.” 

But enter the Anisakis. 

It’s not just a perfect supply chain, but it works as a diagnostic to something bigger – just like your supply chain should.

The Anisakis is a marine parasite with a complex, but somehow symmetrical, life cycle. And here’s how the Anisakis’ life is the perfect metaphor for supply chain.   

Anisakis eggs are laid inside a sea mammal’s belly, let’s say a seal.  The seal defecates – no surprise there. And the Anisakis eggs find themselves in the sea.  The eggs then hang out in the submerged seal’s feces until they become larvae. 

Small crustaceans eat the larvae.


Then larger fish eat the small crustaceans.  The Anisakis larvae are now inside the larger fish.

And then seals eat the larger fish.  Once inside the seal, the Anisakis hangs out in the seal’s intestine.  It feeds – as parasites are want to do inside intestines.  Then it grows and mates and lays eggs.

These new Anisakis eggs end up back under the sea in the seal's feces.  Where the circle of life begins anew. 

Symmetrical.  Perfect.  Supply chain.

Seal #1 is your Tier II supplier.  These are the suppliers who supply your suppliers.  Seal #1 produces the raw material for your supplier to make its product.  In the case of the Anisakis, Seal #1 produces egg-laden feces. 

The ocean is your supplier.  In the ocean, the feces dissolves away and larvae are born.  Just as with your suppliers, the ocean has provided you with what you need to satisfy your customer. 

The small crustacean is your third party logistics provider (3PL).  The 3PL inventories your goods until you need them. 

And when you do, you eat your 3PL.  Not really.  Please don’t try that at home.  In the case of the Anisakis, the larger fish eats the small crustacean.  Just as the goods move out of your 3PL, the Anisakis larvae are now inside the larger fish.

You are the larger fish.  And you want to satisfy your customer.  Seal #2 is your customer.  And it eats you.

You customer is satisfied.  It ordered an Anisakis and it has one in its belly.  Now, I’m not saying that all customers devour their suppliers in the course of everyday business.

  It just feels that way sometimes.

And the fact that a seal is both the Tier II supplier and the customer might only work in a supply chain scenario involving seeds.  Farms both produce seeds and need to buy seeds.  They would be the seals.  But in the seed supply chain scenario, that would mean that Archer Daniels Midland is a supplier.  And we’ve seen that in the Anisakis metaphor, the suppliers are feces.  But I digress.

The fact that these parasites (the Anisakis) live a nearly flawless supply chain life is only part of the artistic beauty that is the Anisakis.  Scientists study these parasites and are actually happy when they see the Anisakis inside a seal or a large fish or a small crustacean.  The scientists use DNA testing to track genetically identifiable Anisakis to gauge fish populations and the health of ecosystems.


See, the parasites are a good thing.  Just like your supply chain is a good thing.  And if you want to get your customers what they want, when they want it – and spend as little money as possible getting that done – you’ll emulate the Anisakis’ parasitic perfection.