Extreme Animals: The Humpback Anglerfish of the Deep
Cosidered by many to be the ugliest creature on the planet, the Humpback Anglerfish is perhaps the most effecient predator of the sea, having developed the most extreme reproduction behavior known to science.
- Like something from a sci-fi movie
- Well equipped fishermen
- Sea legs and camouflage
- "Hooking up"
- What price sex?
- Ugly but tasty
Like something from a sci-fi movie
Often likened to something from a sci-fi movie, the Humpback Anglerfish is considered by most who have seen it to be the ugliest creature on the planet. Inhabiting the murky waters of the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans, this extreme animal typically lives up to a mile below the surface where there is no light and waters are freezing (although some varieties seem to have adapted well to shallow, tropical environments).
Well equipped fishermen
Generally dark gray to dark brown in color, these bizarre-looking carnivores have huge heads with enormous crescent-shaped mouths filled with long, razor-sharp pointed teeth that are angled inward. Some Anglerfish can be quite large, reaching 3.3 feet (1 meter) in length and weighing up to 100 pounds (50 kilograms), but most are significantly smaller, often less than a foot. The Humpback Anglerfish’s most distinctive eye-catching feature is a long fishing-pole-like spine (esca) sprouting from the middle of its head just above the eyes, which only the female of the species possesses. Tipped by a “lure” of luminous flesh, this built-in “fishing rod” can be wiggled so as to resemble prey, thus acting as bait to attract other predators close enough to be captured. Some Humpback Anglerfish even have the added ability to emit a beam of light from their “rod” to further attract prey, an evolutionary bioluminescence resulting from bacteria entering the esca from the seawater.
Sea legs and camouflage
In most species, the mouth of the Humpback Anglerfish is quite wide and extends all around the anterior of the head, with jaws that automatically snap shut when contact is made with the spine. Their back-angled teeth offer no obstruction to an object trying to enter, but prevent escape once inside. And because the Anglerfish's bones are thin and flexible, they are able to distend both their jaw and stomach to enormous size, allowing them to swallow prey twice their size. Some varieties have even developed arm-like pectoral fins--virtual feet--which enable them to walk on the bottom of the sea where they can position themselves in the sand or among seaweed where their fringed appendages, which resemble fronds of seaweed, help them blend into their surroundings while waiting for prey.
The Humpback Anglerfish has one of the most extreme methods of reproduction known to science. Much smaller and less aggressive than the female of the species, the male Anglerfish is born with extremely well developed olfactory organs that can detect the female’s sexual pheromones at great distances. Because the male’s diminutive size makes it difficult for it to find food, it soon becomes imperative to “hook-up” with a female as quickly as possible to prevent starvation. Once a male locates a female by following her sexual scent, a strange and extreme symbiotic mating ritual takes place.
What price sex?
Biting into her skin, an enzyme is released by the male that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, effectively fusing male and female down to the blood-vessel level. The male then slowly atrophies, first losing his digestive organs, then his brain, heart, and eyes, and ends as nothing more than a pair of gonads attached to her body which release sperm in response to hormones in the female's bloodstream--becoming a permanent parasitic sex slave. And since several males typically attach themselves to a single female (the average female carrying a harem of six or more), whenever she is ready to reproduce, she always has a male immediately available.
Ugly but tasty
While much is still unknown about this extreme animal, scientists speculate that varieties of it have existed for perhaps millions of years. And despite their hideous appearance and ability to inflict severe bites, many species of Anglerfish are fished commercially throughout the world--in north-western Europe, eastern North America, Africa, and the Far East. In Europe and North America, the tail meat of this fish, known as goosefish or monkfish, is widely used in a number of exotic recipes. Considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea--fetching premium, often extreme prices--the Anglerfish is compared to lobster in taste and texture.
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