Animal Awareness Tip: Anglerfish

Maideline Sanchez

Have you ever seen Finding Nemo? Do you remember when Dorothy and Marlin encounter an alien-like fish in the deep abyss of the ocean? Well this predator is known as the anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsoni) and in reality they live up to 3000 feet deep in the ocean where pressure is extremely high and where it is impenetrable to light.

This fish can grow up to 12 centimeters long and their colors range from gray to dark brown to black. Like in Finding Nemo, the anglerfish holds a bioluminescent appendage that is a continuation of its spine. The “esca” is located just over its head and the purpose of this blue-greenish light bulb is to lure prey. This is similar to angling where a fisherman attaches a worm or any other object to a hook to draw in fish.

The anglerfish is pretty pliable where it can extend its mouth and ingest prey up to twice its size. This adaptation allows it to store food when it is scarce during certain times of the year. Another interesting fact is that only females exhibit all the characteristics mentioned. Males are actually smaller compared to the females and their features are a lot different.

At a mature age, the male’s digestive system begins to fail making it impossible for him to feed on his own. The male acts as a parasite during this time and he tries to find a suitable female to attach to. When one is found up to six males hook their teeth onto the female’s body and release an enzyme that cause them to fuse together. Eventually, the male’s bloodstream adheres to the female’s and its testes remain active.

When a female is ready to spawn she will lay a large amount of eggs in a gelatinous material up to three feet wide and thirty feet long. Larvae are then released once the eggs hatch and they swim up to the surface to feed on plankton. When they mature, they will swim back into the deep ocean.