The deep sea is a lot like a nightclub: When the lights go down, you don’t have to be pretty to be effective. As a result (and again, not unlike a nightclub), the deep see is awash with creatures that are downright horrifying when bathed in the harsh, unforgiving light of day.
A new species of Ceratioid anglerfish, discovered by researchers at Nova Southeastern University in the Gulf of Mexico, carries on the trend.
The researchers found three female specimens measuring between 30 and 95 centimeters at depths between 1,000 and 1,500 meters. Sunlight can’t penetrate that deep, so the creatures living there have developed myriad adaptations to manage living in total darkness.
In the case of the anglerfish, it gets its name from the probe-like appendage extending upward from its head. At the end is a flexible lure-like growth, which the anglerfish moves in order to entice hungry prey.
Once it’s close enough, the anglerfish quickly gobbles the unsuspecting creature into its spiny, disgusting mouth. How the prey was able to identify something that resembled food yet too stupid to realize it was attached to a horrifying predator is anyone’s guess.
The anglerfish horrors don’t end there. For a while, researchers were curious as to how they reproduced – a male anglerfish had never been found. Eventually they realized that the males, much smaller than the females, reproduced by chewing their way into the females’ sides and first acting as a parasite. In time, the male’s body degenerates and becomes an adaptive reproductive organ for the female, allowing her to breed.
For researchers, the most exciting thing about deep-sea discoveries like this is that they affirm that the majority of the ocean’s wonders have yet to be discovered.
“As a researcher, the one thing I know is that there’s so much more we can learn about our oceans,” said researcher Tracey Sutton, Ph.d. “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.”