The anglerfish lives in the deep, dark parts of the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans. There are over 200 different species of Anglerfish. Some can live in shallow, tropical waters, while others live in the murky depths of the sea, up to a mile below the water’s surface. Its scientific order is Lophiiformes. Show a photo of an anglerfish to a young kid and they probably won’t be too worried about the monster under the bed anymore.
There’s no way around it, the anglerfish is a terrifying creature to look at. With sharp, translucent teeth, enormous pac-man mouths, and a large head, the female anglerfish is often compared to the size of a basketball. They’re carnivorous and can weigh up to 110 pounds.
One of the more distinct physical features of the anglerfish is its “lure.” Found only on females, this lure is a stem-like piece of the dorsal fin that looks remarkably like a fishing lure. The very tip of the lure is luminescent flesh. This is how the anglerfish draw prey. This luminescence is caused by the interactions of millions of bacteria. The female angler fish also has a muscular flap that can hide the light of the lure. The anglerfish pulses the light and moves the fin around, drawing in other fish. This is also how the anglerfish attracts mates.
Males are significantly smaller than females. They are permanently parasitic mates and will latch onto the body of a female with its sharp teeth. Eventually, the male body will dissolve into the female fish, fusing with her skin and bloodstream. In many species of anglerfish, the male fish will lose its eyes and internal organs (except the testes, of course, those will still be needed…). Up to six males might be simultaneously fused to a single female fish’s body. Quite a useful technique if you think about it – in such dark habitats it’s best to hang on tight once you’ve found a mate.
While the lure is obviously a huge advantage in the darkest corners of our world, that’s not all the anglerfish is using to survive in such an intense place. Studies have found that while the anglerfish is a fairly fast swimmer when retreating, it drifts up to 74% of the time. This technique (as well as the way the anglerfish swims forward) could be considered lethargic. However, this behavior is actually ideal for the energy-deficient environment of the deep sea.
Another terrifyingly cool fact? Not only does the female anglerfish often consume their mates, but they also swallow prey up to twice their own size. The anglerfish can extend its jaw and stomach, allowing the fish to store food until the next time a meal comes around – which could be a while.
It’s easy to look up at the stars and wonder at the vast expanse of the universe above us. It is also true that a vast expanse exists right here on earth, beneath the surface of the ocean. The anglerfish is just one example of the mysterious creatures that have evolved to survive in an abyss of depth and darkness. So while this species might visit your nightmares and redefine your conception of ugly, the anglerfish is also a fascinating example of the diversity of our planet and the mysteries still lurking in the oceans today.