Deep sea creatures have always excited and delighted people with their weird ways and the hagfish is no different. The hagfish, otherwise known as a slime eel, is an eel like fish that lives on the ocean floor. They look like a worm, eel and star nosed mole had a baby and produced a blind deep sea fish. But that is where the weird only just begins.
The hagfish has a few special features, the first being that it has no backbone or any other bones in its body besides a cartilaginous skull. This makes the hagfish very capable of squeezing in and out of places and under rocks. They don’t even have a jaw, just 4 rows of crazy sharp teeth that open sideways (not up and down like our mouth does). They use their wonderful/creepy teeth to bite into prey, their main prey being dead or dying fish that have fallen to the sea floor. They are blind but they find their food using their sense of smell and touch. They have barbels around their mouth that have sensory abilities. Once they have located the prey they bite in and wiggle their way inside the prey and then proceed to eat the intestines and then the flesh, leaving nothing but a bag of skin and bones. Hagfish also have three hearts.
I warned you that they were weird and we’re just getting to the best bit about them. The hagfish is, as we said, also known as the slime eel and this is because they produce slime. Makes sense but they don’t just slime a little bit, these creatures have pores all along their body that will ooze slime if they feel threatened and one hagfish can fill a 20L bucket with slime within seconds. Funnily enough they will “sneeze” when their nostrils clog with their own slime. The slime is a defence mechanism and if they are bitten the slime will actually gag the predator and they will leave the hagfish alone. It is a very effective way to ward off predators as can be seen here.
Despite their grotesque appearance and strange behaviors they have remained very much the same for the past 300 million years, so they must be doing something right.
Here at the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre we have an albino hagfish for people to come and see. Hag fish are usually a grey colour but Albie (nicknamed from albino) is all white with red eye spots, indicating that it is a true albino specimen, this is quite rare within hagfish.
You can read more about albinism in whales and other species here http://www.sapphirecoastdiscovery.com.au/2014/06/whales-are-all-white/