Anglerfish are the stuff of nightmares. National Geographic called the other-worldly terrors from the deep "possibly the ugliest animal on the planet," and they're definitely not wrong. Everything about them is creepy, from their maw full of razor sharp, translucent teeth to their dead eyes, and yet, we're still fascinated by them because they're so mysterious.
These deep-sea carnivores are rarely seen alive since they live several hundred meters below the surface of the ocean and when one gets caught in a fishing net or washes ashore, it's because it's dead. This week The New York Times dug deep on the Anglerfish's decades-long history of slow discovery, but what makes them so fascinating (and frightening) to us?
Here's why anglerfish have managed to capture and keep our attention.
In March 2018, footage was captured that showed a pair of mating anglerfish floating in the deep, performing perhaps the strangest mating ritual on the planet.
Anglers engage in parasitic mating where male anglers, which are typically much smaller than the females, become permanently fused together. Females eventually absorb the males who lose organs, such as their eyes during the process, until the male becomes a sac with sperm which the female uses at her leisure to procreate. Female anglers may carry six or more males on their bodies at a time according to National Geographic.
On top of this weirdly alien mating behavior, anglerfish also have a bioluminescent lure protruding from their heads. The lure emits a glow, produced by bacteria living within, that attracts prey. By the time the prey realizes the lure isn't something they themselves can eat, they've become the Angler's meal.
Angler's also have a distinctive wide mouth making it easy for the fish to munch on prey of various sizes. Additionally, Angler teeth curve inwardly in order to prevent prey from escaping. This is a survival adaptation especially since food is so scarce this deep in the ocean.
Abnormal Living Conditions
Anglerfish are also weird because we know disconcertingly little about them and the habitat in which they live. It's also because of this extreme environment, where everything is dark and atmospheric pressure is high, that species like the angler fish developed such strange evolutionary features uncommon in other species. For example, the angler fish developed such a freakishly large jaw and a distensible stomach because the fish needs to take advantage of every prey opportunity available because food is scarce so far below sea level, according to The New York Times.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), "fewer than half a dozen [Anglerfish] have ever been captured on film or video by deep diving research vehicles." In November 2014, MBARI caught incredible footage of a Black Seadevil Angler and shared that it was the "first video footage ever made of this species" at the depth of 600 meters.
Anglerfish research opportunities have been limited, but as tech develops to reach deeper into the abysses of the sea, we'll likely discover more about the enigmatic species and all the other strange creatures that lie in the deepest parts of our oceans.
Source: The New York Times
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