Ewww what is that!! Its so slimy and gross! Well kids, what your looking at isn’t a sea serpent or a snake, its a hagfish. Hagfish may not win any beauty pageants in the near future but they sure know how to hang around, the oldest surviving vertebrate living over 300 million years ago! It’s quite amazing that such a simple looking animal has been around for such a long period of time. Hagfish fall under the class known as the jawless fish, or Agnatha, meaning they lack true jaws like you and I. They are the only known living animals to have a skull but no vertebral column and are related to lampreys.
These crazy looking animals aren’t going to be hanging around in the shallow waters were we could find them on snorkel. They are deep sea animals living hundreds of feet down, feeding primarily on dead animals that sink down to the bottom. Hope you aren’t in the middle of eating a big meal, but these fish are known to enter the inside of the dead animal and devour it from the inside out. They do this by absorbing organic matter across their skin and gills, which allows them to maximize their sporadic feeding methods. Quite the interesting image! Besides how they eat and survive probably the coolest thing about these little guys is their ability to produce copious amounts of slime when distressed.
The hagfish is sometimes referred to as the slime eel and for a good reason. They have around 100 glands along their body, which can produce the thick milky and fibrous slime. The slime of these fish contains thousands of very thin and tiny (100x smaller than a human hair) protein threads. The threads are extremely strong and when they are stretched out and dried they resemble spider silk. The cool applications of this could potentially be creating material that rivals nylon or plastic and used in things from bulletproof vests to artificial tissues, crazy right! If these animals get captured, the hagfish will actually tie itself into a knot and work its way from the head to the tail slowly scrapping off all the slime and freeing itself from the attacker. It’s also believed that the slime of the hagfish has another defense tool, clogging the attackers gills. The slime is so think that when a fish attacks its gills will become clogged and the hagfish will have time to escape. This can be viewed as one of the coolest evolutionary strategies against predator fish around. I don’t know about you but hagfish are cool in my book!