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Neat Nature Nasties! The Hagfish Slime’s Snot Even the Worst Of It

Their disgusting table manners had me saying, “Game over, man. Game over.”

Sarah Burns · 4 months ago

You’re all nestled in bed, sleep washing over you like the gentle waves of the ocean. A rustling stirs what remains of your lingering consciousness, but you’re comfortable burrowed here, and you try to ignore the sound. But it’s close. Too close. 

Anxiously peeking out from your spot on the soft bed, you spy your nosey neighbor, Eelio, helping himself to YOUR leftovers! You feel your stomach — and then your whole body — tied up in knots. Prepping for an argument, you go over there to give Eelio a piece of your mind, but promptly sneeze mucus from every pore of your body, coating Eelio’s gills, sending him away gagging.

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Hagfish, Duiker Point, Cape Peninsula. Photo: Peter Southwood, CC BY-SA 3.0

“Serves him right,” you think, using your mouth tentacles to assess the damage done to the delicious carcass you’ve been saving. Suddenly peckish for the first time in months, you dive in head first, burrowing deep inside the rotting flesh so you can get to all the tasty mushy bits first — the perfect snack before you crawl back into the safe sea-bed, cozying up with a chapter from a classic Hagatha Christie novel.

Hagatha-ed

Oh, you’ve never read any Hagatha Christie? She’s only one of the most popular authors among learned myxiniformes, often referred to as slime eel. But the hagfish is no eel — in fact, with no bones, and vertebrae composed entirely of cartilage, it’s in a class all of its own.

Unsurprisingly, the hagfish doesn’t have many predators. If a hungry, curious shark tries their luck, the hagfish can survive a chomp because their skin is so loose, and their insides are so jello-like, that their bodies just sorta squish out of harm's way. The hagfish then slips away, and the shark is left in a cloud of gill-clogging goo; other unwitting scavengers going after a leftover meal will meet the same fate.

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Hagfish, Duiker Point, Cape Peninsula. Photo: Peter Southwood, CC BY-SA 3.0

This goo is a mix of mucus and proteins that activate with seawater to create massive amounts of thick slime designed to clog the gills of foes, and be generally difficult to get rid of. To protect itself from its own mucus mixture, the hagfish ties its body in a knot to wipe the slime from its gills.

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Hagfish slime. Photo: dirtsailor2003, CC BY-ND 2.0

A hagfish’s skin is so porous that it can go for months without eating, absorbing nutrients from the surrounding water. When it does chow down, it likes to get really into its meal. Its mouth looks exactly like what you’d expect to find on the set of an “Aliens” film, but more horrifying because it’s very real, and somehow slimier than a Xenomorph’s tiny jack-in-the-box mouth. It uses its two sets of teeth to dig right into the center of a rotting carcass, and it eats its way back out. 

They might seem gross to humans, but hagfish have a very important job, and they’re a vital part of our ecosystem. Their off-putting eating habits help to keep the sea floor clean so new growth can take place!

Celebrate this weird unsung hero with your own Hagfish Slime DIY Sensory Bottle

bottle

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