Saturday, 17 July 2010

Hagfish

Image source
Aaaahh, the hagfish. A creature so wretchedly, dispicably, unapologetically, even proudly unattractive, it's almost inspiring. Lucky then, that its eyes are so primitive they can distinguish between light and dark, but little else. In fact, the hagfish is very primitive indeed; our beloved Planet Earth has been graced with the presence of the hag for some 300 million years! This... fish (sort of) was in the sea when metre long scorpions were bestriding the land and giant dragonflies ruled the air.

Like other old-timers such as sharks, the hagfish has no bone in its body, just cartilage, it also has no backbone, no jaws, no scales, no proper fins, just the one nostril, four hearts, two brains and an array of barbels around its mouth. Not to be judgemental, but that's quite weird. And what happens when this... this... THING meets with trouble? Why, it secretes copious amount of slime of course! Slungy, gungy, gloopy, sloopy slime, that apparently interferes with the gills, the very breathing of predatory fish. Long, thin, pink or grey, the hagfish simply doesn't care what you think.



This is made quite apparent when you consider their feeding habits. The fact that they eat worms from the sea floor will be delightfully wholesome once they sniff out the scent of a dead, dying or injured sea creature, for it is at this point that things turn from the merely ugly, to the macabre. It uses horizontally moving structures at its mouth and teeth made of keratin (same stuff as hair finger nails and antlers) to get into the body, its invertebrate body tying itself into knots to gain traction. Once a hole is created it can swim in and eat from the inside out, whether its meal is currently living or long dead. As I say, the hagfish simply doesn't care what you think.

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By the way, the video above is taken from The Blue Planet, a major miniseries all about life beneath the waves. It's narrated by Sir David Attenborough, which is an immediate Seal of Excellence, and it really is quite wonderful. The full series is available on DVD,

US:                                     UK:

There's also a book, children's book and even the soundtrack is available! It really is a great series.


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