Weird Creature Facts: The Anglerfish

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Facts about the anglerfish: its habits, how it feeds, and where it lives.

The anglerfish has a face only a mother could love. It looks like something you see just before you wake up screaming in a cold sweat. But behind those nightmarish rows of needle-sharp teeth lies a fascinating creature.

The little 'fishing pole' on the anglerfish's head gives off light by way of bioluminescence. Many, many organisms produce bioluminescence, including worms, fish, and fungi. Sometimes bioluminescence is the result of chemical interactions which the creature produces itself. In the anglerfish's case - and in the case of most bioluminescent fish - the light is produced by way of symbiosis with bacteria. The activity of bacteria within the organic "light bulb" is what causes the light to appear. The anglerfish uses that little light to attract its prey. Thanks to its massive jaws and flexible body, it can swallow creatures twice its own size!

Perhaps the weirdest thing about the anglerfish is how it mates. The pictures that you see of wide-jawed anglerfish with bioluminescent fishing poles on their heads are all pictures of female specimens. The males are much smaller and lack the bioluminescence of the females. The weird part is this: when the two creatures mate, the male attaches himself to the female by sinking his teeth into her. Once the male is attached, he sheds all of his external organs, including his eyes. After that, he loses his internal organs as well - except his testes. When the male is completely fused, he ends up as little more than a nub of flesh attached to the female like a wart. Even stranger, a female anglerfish can have up to six males attached to her body all at once.

Contrary to common belief, the anglerfish is not strictly a deep-sea creature. There are over two hundred species of anglerfish. Many of them do inhabit the abyssal plains in the deep sea, but not all of them. Some species of anglerfish live in shallow tropical waters. And here you thought that you were safe from the anglerfish because they all lived on the bottom of the ocean. To make things more interesting, some anglerfish are quite large. Most only grow to less than a foot in length, but some of them can reach lengths of 3.3 feet (one meter) or more. Considering the fact that anglerfish can swallow prey twice their own size, an anglerfish of one yard in length could swallow a human whole. Be careful scuba diving on vacation!

Ocean image courtesy of

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Posted on Sep 6, 2011