Thursday, December 6, 2012

Not for the squeamish ....



This rather unpleasant looking fish is a hagfish Myxine glutinosa, a member of a very ancient order of jawless fish. They live in muddy sediments and feed on dead and dying fish, sometimes burrowing through their flesh and consuming the fish from the inside out. They've also been found inside of human corpses that have been in the sea for a long time.


I've twice found these unlovable fish on the shore, alive, along the North East coast. The first occasion was at Whitburn Rocks in Tyne and Wear (see pictures at the bottom of this post) and this one was on the Alnmouth end of Warkworth beach in Northumberland. Both locations were close to river mouths and I suspect that had been thrown overboard by fishermen cleaning their catches on their way into port.

Hagfish are blind, although they can perceive light, and they find their prey by scent, using the barbels on their nose. Aside from their feeding habits, their most unpleasant characteristic is that they release massive amounts of slime when they are caught - you can watch this here on YouTube. This is sufficient to deter an attacking shark - see this YouTube video. Even more remarkably, these fish can tie themselves in knots because they have no rigid vertebral column.


This is the mouth, with tooth-like projections inside that the hagfish uses to chew a hole in the body wall of dead fish. That 'knot-tying' behaviour allows it to twist and turn, tearing a hole in its prey.

Nice.

These are old pictures - I took them in 2007.

You can read more about hagfish here.












14 comments:

  1. Not sure I'd want one of those with my chips! Brian.

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  2. Oh my! Not too pleasant as I sit down to dinner going over the Blogs I follow. However I learned something new so that makes it all worth it - almost! Thanks for the posting. We do not have those here on the shores of Lake Michigan - and that makes me happy. I like my gardens here as they are. Will be back. Jack

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  3. I live and learn. A fascinating creature.
    Thanks for the links.

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  4. I might have a nightmare tonight. Must remember not to feed the hagfish when next I paddle at Saltburn.

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  5. Yuk; but utterly fascinating.
    I'd never heard of these before.

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  6. I had never heard of them. It looks more like a huge worm than a fish.

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  7. Me neither Brian. I'd think twice about just picking it up...!

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  8. Makes you wonder what else lurks in the mud just offshore, doesn't it Jack?

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  9. Hi Adrian,
    It's amazing what the tide washes up on the shore..!

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  10. Hi snippa, at least you can see shark's fins in the water .......

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  11. Yuk just about sums it up Keith ..

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  12. As fishes go, it's one of the most primitive lotusleaf ...

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  13. Goodness, that is one unpleasant looking fish. Thanks for including the links to the videos too, I didn't expect such teeth on those creatures, and what an impressive defence mechanism they have. Great post. Linda

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  14. Hi Linda, I'd read about them in novels - Martin Cruz Smith's Polar Star, I think - but never expected to find one on the beach! Best wishes, Phil

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