Now and again, marine scientists plumbing the dark depths of the sea pull out a new fish species that is just out-and-out ugly.
The latest discovery looks like a hunchbacked, rotting old shoe with spikes, a scraggly mustache and a big mouth with bad teeth. And it has a long, angular fishing pole-looking thing growing out of its head.
The feature is typical for all species of ceratioid anglerfish, which they indeed use to lure other fish to their spiky jaws.
“This fish dangles the appendage until an unsuspecting fish swims up thinking they found a meal, only to quickly learn that they are, in fact, a meal themselves,” the marine researchers from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said in a statement.
The spooky tackle is believed to have evolved from a dorsal fin.
Where the sun doesn’t shine
Looks don’t matter when you live where the sun never shines, but other things do.
The researchers caught three of the new fish species in the northern Gulf of Mexico at depths of 3,280 to 4,921 feet (1,000 to 1,500 meters) in what’s called the bathyal zone — nicknamed the midnight zone, because waters there are pitch black.
No plants grow there, and the survival of creatures that call it home depends on waste called marine snow that sinks down to them. The fight for food is fierce and calls for innovative strategies — like that natural fishing pole.
Usually, the only light in the midnight zone is produced by some fish that are bioluminescent, which is to say, they glow in the dark.
At that depth, the water pressure is a crushing 2,200 pounds per square inch. For comparison, humans on Earth’s surface live in an atmospheric pressure of about 15 psi.
Such finds remind Tracey Sutton, a deep-sea life expert at the university, of how much of the world’s vast oceans are yet undiscovered.
“Every time we go out on a deep-sea research excursion there’s a good chance we’ll see something we’ve never seen before — the life at these depths is really amazing,” he said.
Odd, new look
Sutton and researcher Theodore Pietsch described the new anglerfish species in a study published in the journal Copeia, dedicated to research on fish, amphibians and reptiles.
It looks quite different from previously discovered anglerfish, which are usually stout and roundish.
The team caught three females of the new species, all of them less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) long. Finding male anglerfish swimming about is rare, as they are usually much smaller than females and bite their way into the female’s side, where they remain as parasites.
At first, they appear to be lumps in the female’s bodies.
The parasitic relationship is how many anglerfish reproduce. The male’s body degenerates to become an attached reproductive organ, ready to fertilize when the time is right.