May 22, 2013
The hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii) is an unusual animal that may conjure up images of aliens. Hagfish are found at depths of up to 3,600 feet and grow up to 32 inches long. They have eel-like bodies, simple light-sensing eyespots, and no jaw. They have a partial cartilaginous skull, but no vertebrae, so they are not truly vertebrates. They live on the soft bottoms of the continental slope, with the broadbilled hagfish species occurring in the Western Pacific Ocean near Australia and New Zealand.
Hagfish feed on injured animals or dead carcasses at the seafloor, sometimes consuming them from the inside out. They also hunt for worms and small fish, but their slow metabolism allows them to go for months at a time without eating.
Hagfish can produce large quantities of slime as a defense mechanism when they are attacked by predators. The volume of slime has been recorded reaching five gallons from a single hagfish.
Look for the Aquarium’s hagfish in the Wonders of the Deep exhibit opening on May 24. A display featuring animals that feed on carcasses of whales at the seafloor will include hagfish, crabs, and other deep-sea animals.