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Deep Dark Sea Monsters April 26, 2010

Posted by Colleen in Behavior, Biology, Ecology, Physiology.

It seems like the things that fascinate us the most are the things we don’t know much about. This is certainly true for the depths of the ocean. One of the most famous organisms that can be found in the Mesopelagic to Bathypelagic zones of the ocean is the Deep Sea Anglerfish. The species I will be referring to is commonly called the humpback angler or the black devilfish (Melanocetus johnsonii).

Yikes! Does it bite?

This fish looks ferocious with its huge mouth and fang-like teeth, tiny eyes and round body. You might think that this fish is huge and could bite your arm off. You’d be wrong. This little cutie actually maxes out around 7 inches (and that’s pretty big). It has a round body with soft muscles and weak bones to deal with the high pressures found at these depths. She doesn’t need to be very muscular because she is actually rather sedentary. She sits and waits for her food to come to her, using her bioluminescent lure to attract prey. The lure is filled with symbiotic bacteria that fluoresce in a fashion similar to the fireflies here on land. She wiggles it back and forth, encouraging her food to get close enough that all she has to do is open her mouth and gobble up the unsuspecting fish. The stomach is extremely expandable, making it possible for the anglerfish to eat things that are up to two times as large as she is! Pretty extreme, but food is hard to come by so beggars can’t be choosers.

Ladies night!

You may have noticed that I kept referring to the angler as a she. This is no accident. The humpback anglers we are most familiar with are actually all females. Their male counterparts are much smaller than the females, being only about an inch long. They look like little jelly beans with fins! Unlike the female anglers, the males are actually very muscular, perfect for active swimming. They need to be good swimmers so that they can find the females. The male anglerfish really only has one goal in life: to find a female angler. This is because the Deep Sea Anglerfish have evolved to have a very bizarre reproductive cycle. Since it is harder to find a mate than to find food for these little fishies, they can’t reproduce like most other fish. The males have special organs by their eyes that allow them to sense the chemicals that are emitted from the female fish. When a male finds a female, he uses hooks in his mouth to attach to the female. Over time, the male becomes part of the female, a parasite of sorts, sharing her blood supply and getting all of his nutrients from her. The only thing that the male fish continues to do on his own is breathe. This way whenever the female is ready to lay her eggs, she has the male there to fertilize them.


1. Dr. O - April 27, 2010

Awesome! I love the angler fish species! So weird and cool! Extreme organisms (and behaviors) for an extreme environment.

2. Paula - April 29, 2010

These fish are so interesting!

3. Sea Monsters - March 15, 2011

Angler fish are so cool. They are like a modern day sea monster. There teeth scare the heck out of me and the fact that they “fish” for their food is down right frightening.

4. IRS Lawyer - May 21, 2012

Without the lies she has nothing to believe in.

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