Let’s be honest: Not many people would have hagfish on their list of “most charismatic marine species.” They’re slimy, they eat dead things, they have rows of tooth-like structures straight out of a horror movie.
But it is arguably their strange and sordid existence that gives them their allure. In a sea of chipper dolphins and sweet sea turtles, hagfish swim, cunningly and without jaws, living their lives.
Here are four facts about this strange, wonderful and…weird fish.
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they don’t have jaws
Although they look like eels, they are an entirely different category of fish. Hagfishes are in the superclass Agnatha, which also includes the lampreys. Hagfish are primitive fish, meaning they haven’t changed much since they first evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. They are the only known living animals that have a skull but no spine, and their skeleton is made of cartilage similar to that of sharks, skates, and rays.
they are really, Really Disgusting
Hagfish have dozens of glands in their bodies that secrete slime made of sugars and proteins. When these protein strands meet with salt water, they disperse into a thick blanket of mud. According to Ed Young the AtlanticMILF is about mud Jell-O. 100,000 times softer than (What a sight!) This slime is used to evade predators—the slippery fish among pools of mud are not easy to move or catch.
they’re not picky about the food
Hagfish will not turn their nose at dead animals. They are known to be the first to bow their heads—literally—in dead and dying animals. They use their teeth-like mouth rakes made of keratin to scrape tissue from carcasses (another spectacular sight, welcome). But they don’t even need to do this to fill their stomachs—they can absorb nutrients directly through their skin. Scavengers such as hagfish play an important role in recycling nutrients from dead animals back into the ecosystem. they are soon a common sight Whale Falls, for example.
They Have Some…Unique Skills
The more you read about hagfish, the more you realize that these slippery, carcass-eating, jawless fish are one-of-a-kind. To keep itself from getting caught in its goo, the hagfish can tie a knot with its eel-like body and slide it from head to tail, squeezing out the slime. They may also “sneeze” to clear the mud from their faces. Their soft, agile bodies are capable of squeezing even half-sized crevices.
You don’t have to love hagfish slime or the fact that they eat animals from the inside out. But you have to admit, these guys are pretty wild!
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