TechSea serpents of slime: The incredible defense of brown hagfish

Sea serpents of slime: The incredible defense of brown hagfish

Hagfish - illustrative photo
Hagfish - illustrative photo
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons

5:33 PM EDT, June 9, 2024

It resembles an eel, is a scavenger, and lives at great depths. As it is known, the brown hagfish is an extraordinary creature with an astounding ability to produce slime, allowing it to overcome sharks much larger than itself.

The underwater world regularly brings science to new species. Not long ago, scientists reported identifying pink worms, Pectinereis strickrotti, inhabiting areas at depths of 3,300 feet. Similarly, the Pacific Ocean recently washed up a previously discovered but exceptionally looking anglerfish on a beach in the USA (rare deep-sea anglerfish discovered on Oregon beach).

The brown hagfish (Pacific), or more precisely Eptatretus stoutii, is another creature known to science for a long time but stands out among other species due to its astonishing abilities. Look closer at this fish, whose skills were discovered during a road accident.

It has lived on Earth for over 500 million years

At first glance, Eptatretus stoutii may appear to be a primitive organism. According to the Live Science portal, this species has lived on Earth for over 500 million years. These pink-grey fish reach over 24 inches in length. Although they have a skull, they lack jaws.

That, however, doesn’t prevent them from being a real threat to predators many times their size – including sharks. Hagfish can produce enormous amounts of sticky slime, which immediately clogs the gills of their attacking aggressors. One of the scientists studying this species explained to Live Science that no successful hunt on a hagfish by any gill-breathing predator has ever been observed.

The fantastic abilities of E. stoutii were discovered during a car accident involving nearly 8,000 pounds of hagfish. The vehicle crashed, spilling its cargo, and the road was immediately covered with sticky slime. Douglas Fudge of Chapman University in California explained this was a stress response. "Hagfish produce slime to defend against predators," he said, "but they also do this when stressed, and being thrown onto the road is considered stress for the hagfish."

Although E. stoutii can overcome even the aforementioned sharks, it is not a demanding creature when it comes to food. It eats carrion, whale waste, and other decomposing animal tissues underwater. This helps keep the ecosystem clean and facilitates nutrient cycling in the seas. Besides, hagfish do not eat often – even in captivity, they are fed every 3-6 months.

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