Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cute and cuddly

Hi Sea Fans!

What's long, thin, slimy, has no stomach and 3 hearts?  A hagfish of course! 

Photo: Berkely University
Yes, it's not so cute and cuddly, but it's fascinating and I had such a laugh this last week so I just have to tell you about it.  One of our aquarists is writing a paper on the stress response of hagfish, so I went to check out what was happening.  I arrived at just the right time because he was about to weigh the hagfish. 

For those of you who don't know, hagfish give off slime when they get stressed...some can even give off a whole bucket of slime!!  I've seen it for myself!  So to prevent this from happening, while they get weighed, they need to get anaesthetised (they have to go to sleep for a bit or at least be a bit drowsy so that they don't get stressed easily).  The anaesthetic is put into the water and soon after, they become very relaxed.  This makes handling them a lot easier. 

Unfortunately, one of the hagfish was still quite wide awake so when it was picked up, it wriggled around so much that it managed to wriggle right out of the aquarist's hands and plopped straight into the bucket as if it had planned that all along!  I had to laugh at the look on the aquarist's face, he couldn't believe his eyes, and the amount of slime the hagfish gave off was unbelievable!!!  It gave off so much that we couldn't weigh it at first (We weigh them by putting them onto a scale in a bucket of water, of which we know the weight already).  The little guy obviously wasn't happy with being moved.  Luckily, the anaesthetic took effect quite quickly after that so we could remove all the slime and weigh him. 

I think the next step is to weigh the slime to see how much is given off and then they're also going to test the bloods for stress enzymes, but I needed to get to my dive feed in time so I had to rush off and couldn't stick around to watch more.  Amazing what you can learn from something that seems so simple!

Because of this event, I thought I'd quickly look up a few things about hagfish for you.  Did you know that:
  • Hagfish scavenge on dead or disabled fish - they're like the vultures of the sea - but they also eat invertebrates (the little things in the sea that don't have a backbone) like worms.
  • They can go for up to 7 months without eating.
  • They are almost blind, but they've got a good sense of touch and smell.
  • They have a rasp-like tongue that tears into the flesh of their prey.
  • Once they've given off slime and the danger has passed, they tie themselves into a knot to get the slime off themselves. (The one in this photo looks a bit like Houdini! : ))

    Photo: C Ortlepp
Don't have nightmares tonight Sea Fans, these little guys don't harm us.  Rather think of how much fun you could have if you could tie yourself in a knot like a hagfish!

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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