Saturday, November 27, 2021

    The Hagfish Is A Strange Slime-Spewing Ocean Monsters


    At first glance, the humble hagfish appears to be simply another kind of ocean-dwelling eel, yet they are far stranger and more fascinating. There’s a lot of craziness to address, from the bizarre slime-like fluid it creates as a defensive measure to the lack of a backbone.

    The hagfish is a primitive, nearly blind organism that lives on the ocean floor, crawling and eating largely on dead or dying fish. The hagfish’s body structure is one of the many characteristics that distinguish it. It possesses a skull but no jaw or spinal column. This enables them to bind their bodies in knots in order to scrape the sticky slime they create from their skin. They can burrow into dead or dying animals through numerous orifices and even through their skin, devouring them from the inside with two rows of keratinous fangs. However, they do not require teeth because they can absorb nutrition via their skin and can go months without eating. That’s weird stuff, and we haven’t even gotten into their slime-making talents.

    The hagfish appears defenceless because it lacks eyes and teeth, yet it has a secret weapon that can keep most predators at bay. When frightened or scared, these crawling sea creatures expel a sticky slime-like material that can trap, delay, and even smother assailants, letting them to flee. But it’s the mechanism through which this slime works that’s truly remarkable.

    The gelatinous slime is produced by Hagfish through pairs of pores that run the length of their bodies. One type of gland creates a sophisticated coiled mucus thread about six inches long, while the other makes a slime bubble. The threads entangle and stretch out, forming a rapidly expanding net that catches both mucus and water.

    The ordinary hagfish produces approximately a teaspoon of this mucus, but it swells 10,000 times in less than half a second, enough to fill a bucket. Most predators are deterred from pursuing the hagfish once it has made contact with it due to the high density of the slime.

    “The slime sets up very quickly and is incredibly good at sticking to and clogging gills, so fish typically abort their attacks on hagfishes because they can’t deal with the slime,” Douglas Fudge, a biomaterials researcher at Chapman University, told National Geographic.

    Fortunately, humans rarely come into contact with hagfish slime. It was, however, the scene of one of the oddest traffic accidents ever documented. A vehicle carrying hackfish was involved in an accident, and the slithering critters landed on the road, coating it in a thick, sticky layer of muck that had to be scraped with a tiny bulldozer before normal traffic could continue.

    The slime is undeniably nasty, but many scientists regard it as one of the most fascinating substances ever discovered. For starters, its outward aspect can be deceiving. It appears to be slime, but it is actually a spider’s web in nature. These threads entangle and spread out, forming a rapidly expanding net that captures both mucus and water. They are ten times stronger than nylon, ten times thinner than human hair, and ten times more flexible.

    Hagfish slime is one of nature’s softest materials. It is 10,000 to 100,000 times softer than Jell-O and appears to be plain water at first glance. It’s only when you put your hand inside that you realise it’s not quite right.

    Even after decades of research, scientists are only now beginning to understand the method by which hagfish generate the slime-like substance. The technique is still a mystery, as no one knows how they coil the threads into structures resembling minuscule balls of yarn that swiftly expand after leaving the pores on the creature’s skin.

    Because of its peculiar qualities, hagfish “slime” has piqued the interest of scientists, who want to develop an artificial material with a wide range of applications. We may be able to make fabric out of hagfish slime one day, providing an environmentally benign alternative to petroleum-based synthetic materials. Some speculate that the slime might be employed in protective equipment such as safety helmets and Kevlar jackets, as well as as a protective layer for divers. It has the potential to be beneficial in tissue engineering and the replacement of injured tendons in medicine.

    Meanwhile, the hagfish remains a repulsive, slime-spewing sea monster to the typical human. It’s not the most attractive critter on the planet, and simply touching it leaves your palm covered in sticky muck doesn’t help matters.

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