Pacific Hagfish, Eptatretus stoutii

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The Pacific Hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii) also known as the Slime Eel, is a species of hagfish that is found in the mesopelagic (600 to 3000 feet deep) to abyssal (13,000 to 21,000 feet deep) Pacific ocean, near the ocean floor. In many parts of the world, including the USA, hagfish-skin clothing, belts, and other accessories are advertised and sold as “yuppie leather” or “eel-skin”. Hagfish, however, are not true eels.

This is a jawless fish, as it evolved to lose this trait from the early Paleozoic Era. The Hagfish is notorious for its slimy skin. When disturbed, it oozes proteins from slime glands in its skin that respond to water and creating a huge mass of slime that covers the body. This makes them very distasteful to predators. Hagfish can create large amounts of slime in just a few minutes. A study has shown that a single hagfish could fill an entire barrel with slime in as little as 100 minutes.

Hagfish are eaten in Japan and other Asian countries, along with its eggs and slime. The industry for hagfish has grown in recent years as people discover the economic and health benefits of this food source. Swarms of hagfish will descend upon and penetrate the carcass and devour it from the inside out. This efficient mode of marine waste disposal helps to keep the ocean floor clean of rotting animals. This also helps to regulate the global cycles of phosphorus, carbon and nitrogen.

Hagfish have feelers that enable it to find food easily. It is an opportunistic feeder, and enjoys dead and rotting animals that float down from the pelagic zone of the sea.

Image Caption: Pacific Hagfish resting on sea bottom in Astoria Canyon off Oregon Coast (2001). Credit: Wikipedia