Meet the Hagfish
January 23, 2019 10:00 AM   Subscribe

A hagfish will release less than a teaspoon of gunk and in less than half a second, that little amount will expand by 10,000 times—enough to fill a sizable bucket....The slime is one of nature’s more wondrous substances, unlike anything else that’s been concocted by either evolution or engineers... The entire hagfish is effectively a large gut, and even that is understating matters: Their skin is actually more efficient at absorbing nutrients than their own intestines.
posted by If only I had a penguin... (52 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whoever would have thought that a microscope image of a hagfish’s coiled slime thread could be so pretty.
posted by Kikujiro's Summer at 10:18 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


They had a tank of these in one of the research labs at my university. The slime is something else to experience first hand.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:20 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


The entire hagfish is effectively a large gut

It me
posted by biogeo at 10:21 AM on January 23 [32 favorites]




Alpacas in optician offices, hagfish in cars....dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!
posted by Fizz at 10:24 AM on January 23 [20 favorites]


Behold the newest superhero - Slime Boy!
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:24 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I LOVE THE HAGFISH

did you know that they tie themselves in goddamn knots to help get tasty things off carcasses? I was at a really cool poster last month that was trying to figure out how the hell vertebrates can pull that knotting behavior off without crushing their spinal cords, and trying to figure out whether moray eels pull off knotting in the same way.
posted by sciatrix at 10:25 AM on January 23 [12 favorites]


We all love hagfish, we love their slime, we love the knots, we love the deep sea, hundreds of of them living in dead things, but read to the last paragraphs:

"By comparing Tethymyxine to other hagfish, Tetsuo Miyashita from the University of Chicago concluded that these creatures (along with another group of jawless fish, the lampreys) are not precursors to vertebrates, but actual vertebrates themselves.

... but it fits with the results of genetic studies. If it’s right, then hagfish aren’t primitive evolutionary throwbacks at all. Instead, they represent a lineage of vertebrates that diverged from all the others about 550 million years ago, and lost several traits such as complex eyes, taste buds, scales, and perhaps even bones. Maybe those losses were adaptations to a life spent infiltrating carcasses in the dark, deep ocean, much like their flaccid, nutrient-absorbing skins are. “Hagfishes might look primitive, they’re actually very specialized,” Miyashita adds."
posted by bdc34 at 10:27 AM on January 23 [14 favorites]


Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously.

I am loving author Ed Yong and what he wrote above.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:27 AM on January 23 [44 favorites]


Hold on, I thought they were definitely vertebrates already. They have a spinal cord!

Oh god but they don't have vertebrae

but if they used to have vertebrae but don't anymore... then vertebrate is a paraphyletic category unless it includes them...

oh god are we just going to have to refer to chordates forever instead now? I'm not used to having to think in terms of chordates!
posted by sciatrix at 10:30 AM on January 23 [34 favorites]


The animal is effectively wearing a set of extremely loose pajamas, Fudge says. If a shark bites down, “the body sort of squishes out of the way.”
I saw a video about an NFL player who used the same strategy to escape from tacklers. The NFL subsequently made loose jerseys illegal. They clearly don't believe in the survival of the fittest.
posted by clawsoon at 10:38 AM on January 23 [9 favorites]


Pull yourself together, sciatrix! Be a scientist! Show... some... backbone...

...

...
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:45 AM on January 23 [23 favorites]


I am now picturing an NFL player who responds to being tackled by producing gallons of slime.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 11:04 AM on January 23 [36 favorites]


release less than a teaspoon of gunk and in less than half a second, that little amount will expand by 10,000 times
Ah, the MetaFilter "US politics post" model.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:08 AM on January 23 [48 favorites]


oh god are we just going to have to refer to chordates forever instead now? I'm not used to having to think in terms of chordates!

Do you want lancelets? Because this is how you get lancelets.
posted by Mayor West at 11:27 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


I am loving author Ed Yong

Needs edyong tag.
posted by larrybob at 11:28 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


but if they used to have vertebrae but don't anymore... then vertebrate is a paraphyletic category unless it includes them...
...
Pull yourself together, sciatrix! Be a scientist! Show... some... backbone...

This is why although I'll likely never meet any of you, I consider y'all my family...
posted by mikelieman at 11:34 AM on January 23 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: flaccid, nutrient-absorbing skins
posted by benzenedream at 11:34 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]


Fantastic article. All the way from molecular and subcellular to ecosystem interactions and evolution. And to think that I knew next to nothing about hagfish before today!

As a molecular engineer, now all I can think about is how I could design a meter-long 1-micron-wide fiber rolled up like a spool of yarn that expands 10000-fold within seconds when triggered. Such a concrete challenge!

Give me 4 billions years, I bet I can do it.
posted by brambleboy at 11:35 AM on January 23 [10 favorites]


You also have to design the excretory system for the exploding yarn:
Figure 1: Hagfish slime gland, gland thread cells, and thread skeins
posted by benzenedream at 11:38 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously.

Also, yes, I found this an insightful and provocative comment. Although perhaps I would have put it the other way around: humans produce opinions the way hagfish produce slime.

If only I had a concrete engineering challenge to go along with that. AI spooled like a ball of yarn? Expands 10000-fold in seconds? You’ll give me another 4 billion years?
posted by brambleboy at 11:40 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


You know, the image of a car covered in hagfish slime is something I think my 8 year old self would have thought was awesome. My middle aged self hopes it comes out of the upholstery.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:48 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]


Fascinating. Eww. But fascinating! But eww.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:55 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


The only time in my life it felt like something supernatural was happening to me, hagfish were involved.

I was studying abroad in southern Japan in high school and I was at this old janky out-over-the-water aquarium with my host dad. The lower floor of the aquarium was below the water and had this kind of creepy submarine feeling, wet and damp poorly lit and weird. The whole place was empty. The underwater bit a single long looping hall, with portholes out into the ocean on one side and the other had windows that showed tanks with different exhibits.

One window was kind of alone by itself, and unlit. In the dark behind the glass these eyeless writhing things were feeding on a dead fish, twisting around and ripping this fish apart in the water. Reader, the label for this tank said "Seahorse." I had never heard of hagfish and didn't know they existed. It was the only time in real life I have gotten the "something is wrong" feeling a really intense horror movie gives you. Something is wrong, my brain told me. This is not alright.

Then I just kind of went "ugh" and kept wandering, and like forty feet away there was an empty window with with an aquarium worker behind it cleaning, and hagfish facts next to it. But that moment where I saw a tank swarming with hagfish feeding in the dark, where clearly they were not supposed to be, gave me a feeling I've never had before or since.
posted by Rinku at 11:59 AM on January 23 [38 favorites]


The entire hagfish is effectively a large gut, and even that is understating matters: Their skin is actually more efficient at absorbing nutrients than their own intestines.

This makes it sound like a hagfish is not so much a "large gut" -- though it certainly has one -- as it is an animal which has somehow turned itself inside out, so that the gut is now on the outside.

I'd even have to wonder whether there might be some event in hagfish development where a tubular arrangement of cells which constitutes the hagfish at that point simply swallows itself and turns inside out.
posted by jamjam at 12:00 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


My middle aged self hopes it comes out of the upholstery.

It's kind of fortunate in a way that the car itself seems to be totaled. Let the wrecking yard worry about the details.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:01 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Did YOU celebrate International Hagfish Day? They really are wonderful creatures who deserve a holiday.

My library kids and I said it with hagfish and watched a bunch of videos this year. After the program, my coworker, who can hear everything in the program room through the wall, said "I heard them go EWWWWWWWWW as a group-- I guess we can say it went well?"
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:05 PM on January 23 [9 favorites]


I can’t ever encounter the word “Hagfish” without my brain suggesting … Rocks Your Lame Ass. Yes, I spent a lot of the 90s in record stores.
posted by fedward at 12:54 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Let the wrecking yard worry about the details.

That's *if* they can manage to keep it from just sliding right off the tow truck....
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:55 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Fudge says these animals, which he identifies as the Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii), also release their mucus when stressed. And yes, “being dumped onto a Prius counts.”
Mood.
posted by klanawa at 12:56 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]




Great article. I've been on the lookout for decent science journalism and now I get to go and enjoy all the Ed Yong articles at the Atlantic. His Twitter is pretty great too - I found this lovely rant by Sarah Taber on the misguided "ugly food" trend.
posted by exogenous at 1:15 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Ed Yong on Twitter earlier today:
Me to my colleagues: "So, I'm pretty interested in hagfish slime."
Me, a few hours later: "I was unprepared for just how much hagfish news there is out there."
Hey Ed, so were the rest of us.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:18 PM on January 23 [12 favorites]


Perhaps that’s why, in 2013, the Italian researcher Daniela Silvia Pace spotted a bottlenose dolphin with a hagfish stuck in its blowhole.

That made me immediately think of this post. And like brambleboy, I appreciated the comparison between hagfish slime and people's opinions.
posted by TedW at 1:59 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Now I want to feel hagfish slime
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:06 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


oh god are we just going to have to refer to chordates forever instead now? I'm not used to having to think in terms of chordates!

Don't worry, we'll solve it the same way we solved the paraphyly of the reptiles without birds, and learn to say "non-hagfish vertebrates" every time.
posted by biogeo at 3:23 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


I'm also surprised we didn't bring up this previously which has a link to some of the best science journalism I've read in a while, "Your car has just been crushed by hagfish: an FAQ."
posted by blnkfrnk at 3:34 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


So, if the slime can be used as an egg supplement... am I the only one really wondering what it tastes like?
posted by sarcasticah at 5:50 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I took a class with Doug Fudge! Working with hagfish was super fascinating. I remember taking a little bit of slime from the hagfish's glands and stirring it into a glass of water...within minutes there was a big viscous glob of slime around the stirring rod.
posted by Lurch at 6:13 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Now I want to feel hagfish slime

I still can't believe I paid extra to be able to touch a stingray. Slime. 100% not worth paying extra money for.
posted by srboisvert at 6:19 PM on January 23


Wait, in that hagfish spill, what did they do with the hagfish? Did they leave them all to slip away into an Oregonian highway-side death?
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:26 PM on January 23


If I recall correctly, they pretty much all died right there on the highway (with a smell to match) before anything could be done to recover them. And I'm sure real efforts would have been made to recover them, since a truckful of hagfish would be worth many thousands of dollars.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:09 PM on January 23


At the scene of the slime, hagfish clean-up continues along U.S. 101 — "It looked like something out of 'Ghostbusters.'"

This is a pretty amusing article about the cleanup (though sad, too — as noted, they pretty much all died after the crash).
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:23 PM on January 23


According to my math, a 5 ml teaspoon of proto-slime expanded 10,000 times is 50 liters. Enough to fill a large bucket indeed!
posted by TedW at 4:05 AM on January 24


I don't know if anybody else noticed this, but in the video in the Atlantic article, right here, there's a jar labeled "Hagfish Slime", and the hand just flicks off the slime into the jar.

So people have jars of this stuff labelled like last summer's peach preserves just laying around.

Ok then.
posted by saysthis at 6:15 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Don't forget that hagfish slime can be used in baking as an egg replacement.

I'm really struggling to envision the scenario in which one has access to hagfish slime, but not an egg.
posted by entropone at 6:22 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]


Egg allergies, maybe - not so much a matter of access as consumption.
posted by cage and aquarium at 6:48 AM on January 24


I'm tempted to get some hagfish just to try out the scone recipe. Would need quite a big tank though I think and would need to get into the business of supplying hagfish egg substitute.
posted by koolkat at 7:15 AM on January 24


I'm really struggling to envision the scenario in which one has access to hagfish slime, but not an egg.

Impromptu aquarium staff potluck?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:16 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Don't forget that hagfish slime can be used in baking as an egg replacement.

Thanks I'm literally always forgetting this
posted by um at 7:22 AM on January 24 [21 favorites]


I'm really struggling to envision the scenario in which one has access to hagfish slime, but not an egg.

Clearly someone has never had to make brownies for a party at the last moment in the Abyssal Deep....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:30 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


They slime when attacked or simply when stressed.

direct action
posted by poffin boffin at 7:51 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


« Older “Nobody is going to believe you.”   |   International Correspondence Writing Month Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments