Living Fossil Bewitches

Te Papa scientist Vincent Zintzen and colleagues have been studying the hunting behaviour of the hagfish — or snot-eel — a blind sea creature partway between fish and worm, with a spinal cord but no backbone, and a creature little changed in 300 million years. During a video deployment off Great Barrier Island at 97m depth, one hagfish species was successfully observed predating on a red bandfish. Zintzen watched the hagfish grabbing the prey in its mouth and beginning to swallow it. To swallow things, the hagfish pushes out two plates covered with teeth, which clamp on and then retract, pulling the food into the hagfish’s mouth. Zintzen writes on his blog: “After carefully reviewing over 1000 hours of underwater video footage, I realized that not a single shark or other large fish could bite and feed on hagfish … Every time a large fish tries to attack, the hagfish produce large amount of slime at incredible speed. This slime then clogs the gills of those would-be predators which start choking, unable to breathe.”

Tags: Cincent Zintzen  hagfish  New Scientist  snot-eel  Te Papa Tongarewa