30 October 2011

Hagfish produce enought slime to choke a shark

From the incomparable Not Exactly Rocket Science blog at Discover Magazine:
[Hagfish] are disgusting feeders. They burrow deep into corpses and eat their way out, and can even absorb nutrients through their skin. And if they’re threatened or provoked, they produce slime – lots of slime, oozing from the hundreds of pores that line their bodies. The slime consists of large mucus proteins called mucins, linked together by longer protein threads. When it mixes with seawater, it massively expands, becoming almost a thousand times more dilute than other animal mucus... 
Much more at the link, where there is a second embedded video:
The hagfish in the videos are attacked by sharks, conger eels, wreckfishes and more. In less than half a second, the predator’s mouth and gills are filled with slime. It leaves, gagging and convulsing, slime hanging in long wisps from its head. 
You learn something every day.


  1. OK - so what can we use it for? Probably the easiest would be to sell it as a cosmetic, simply because you can make the most ridiculous claims without having to actually justify them.

  2. It's one of the grand ironies of evolution. The jawless agnathan fishes were 'replaced' by the more successful jawed, but still cartilagenous, early sharks 400-ish million years ago. The few surviving agnathans are these slimeballs and the parasitic lampreys, some of which feed on the tissue and blood of...fish. The two are the last laughs of a nearly extinguished group.

  3. It is important to label your jar of "hagfish slime" lest you get it confused with the other slime in your collection.

  4. @blithery
    I remember being terrified of being "latched onto" by a lamprey when we were kids. There was about a 2-3 week period in early summer (just at the start of swimming season, natch!) when they would return to their estuarine habitat to build a nest, mate, lay their eggs and die. We were told they were non-parasitic by this phase of their lives, but none of us particularly felt like testing that theory! Have you ever seen one build its nest? Creepy yet fascinating.


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