10/26/12

Stop Slimming Me You Old Hag-fish.

"They call me a hagfish, don't mess with me! If you die around me I will eat you."
With Halloween right around the corner, what better time for a post on the the slimer of the sea, also known as a hagfish, class Myxini order Myxiniformes and family Myxinidae. The stem myxin means "slime" and this fish is the triple threat of the gooey stuff. If Dr. Venkman (Bill Murray) would have encountered a hagfish instead of a ghost in that swanky New York City Hotel in the opening scene of "Ghostbusters", he would have been choking on slime. That's the kind of slimming capabilities these creatures possess.

Hagfish are jawless, worm like creatures that live in temperate seas and have long fascinated biologists as the only living representatives of the ancient creatures that gave rise to fish and humans. Preying extensively on invertebrates, but are also important scavengers on the ocean floor. They can quickly congregate in large numbers on dead whales and fish with the ability to cover a carcass in a "writhing swarm" with enough action to stir up surrounding sediments and completely engulf the dead animal with slime. Being scavengers, they are not scared to enter a dead or dying fish through the gills, mouth, or anus, and consume their prey from the inside out! Like a miner entering a mountain to extract the gold.

It is not uncommon for marine commercial fisherman who use set lines or gill nets to find fish in their nets that are occupied by feeding hagfish. Once on deck the hagfish secrete incredible amounts of slime that sticks to both deck and fishermen.
Their main defense mechanism is their burrowing behavior and their slime, with which they can coat themselves in large quantities quite quickly. The slime is also used to coat dead fish, thereby making it unpalatable to other scavengers.  Talk about marking your territory. That reminds me of when we were children and you would lick every doughnut in a dozen so no one else would eat them. Apparently the hagfish does not like to share with others.


How do they get water into their gills when they are completely covered in slime? Good question, what they do is tie themselves in a knot, which passes down their body pushing the slime away. Kind of like natural Sudafed, clearing out those breathing passages. Very resourceful, inspiring creatures if you ask me.   

This Halloween when you are contemplating what to be, I hope this post inspires you to consider dressing as a hagfish, because it's cool and original. Sure, people might not know exactly what you are but when they ask, you can look them dead in the eye with a Clint Eastwood smirk and say, "I am a hagfish, and if you don't give me all of your candy, a bunch of my homies and I are going to cover you in slime until you can't breathe and then eat you from the inside out."

Be safe this Halloween, don't talk to strangers.

Skyman out.  

 
Reference:
Moyle, P.B., Cech, J.J. Jr. 2000.  Fishes: An Introduction to Ichthyology, Fourth Edition. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ.pg. 212-214.