Stephen Sen / AP
The deceptive, pink-gray, invertebrate dwelling, known as the clown, is amazing and disgusting.
It is a two-dimensional creature that resembles an eel, but unlike eels, the fish has no spine or jaw or eyes. But for all that is missing, it compensates with incredible amounts of strange and unusual mucus that it uses to protect itself from predators.
Based on their simple features, scientists have long believed that the sluts were primitive, but they were trying to understand where the evolutionary deadlines for other fish and vertebrates fit. Ed Yong, staff writer The Atlantic Ocean, says that the evolutionary relationship between hagfish and other fish has been controversial for a long time.
"Many scientists have considered them to be very primitive beings, like some sort of transition from something like a worm to something like fish, as a precursor to stuck animals like us," Yong Scott Simon said.
Part of the problem is that before relatively recently, foolishness had almost no fossil to offer clues. But in a study published this month in Notifications of the National Academy of Scienceshe called out a fossil Tetymyxine offers some new insights. Acquired by the Institute of Geological Studies at Black Hills in 2013, fossil is described in the study as "unambiguously fossilized milk."
The fossil found in a Lebanese career is 12 inches long and includes remnants of preserved mucus dating back 100 million years ago. The chemicals in the preserved mucous glands correspond to the composition of modern sea mucus.
After studying the fossils, the researchers concluded that hagfish were not primitive vertebrate ancestors, but assumed that the creatures were the vertebrates themselves.
For his piece The Atlantic Ocean, Yong explained the significance of this discovery:
If this is correct, then there are no primitive evolutionary throws. Instead, they represent a genus of vertebrate animals that deviate from the others about 550 million years ago and have lost several traits.
"They are part of the spine," Yong said in his interview. "They just seem to have lost many of the features we have – things like complex eyes and bones and taste buds, so instead of being this strange evolutionary return, they're actually quite specialized."
Their biggest specialization? Their mucus, lots and much of mucus.
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Silence is an evolutionary trait that is used to protect yourself. They release less than one teaspoon of mucus from the glands on their turn when they are attacked or stressed. But in a fraction of a second, this teaspoon expands in liter of slime.
"If you first put a bucket in a bucket, it will look like those thin twigs like white turbid tissue have been released from its flanks," Yong said. "And then, if you get your hand and swirl it, you'll just pull yourself like a handful of these things. It's almost like turning the whole bucket into mucus.
Silence is ideal for infiltration of nooks, especially in the mouths and gills of predators. When they attack fish, they release a cloud of mucus that effectively stifles the attacker.
"Hagfis are willing to wash dead and dying corpses at the bottom of the ocean, so they attract many other things like sharks, so they often bite," Yong said. "There were these amazing videos of sharks that bite fish, and then they just dropped their mouths and gills filled with mud and just writhing and forcing to retreat."
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The thought of a cloud of mucus is enough to get someone to retire, but after hearing of the mucus, Yong said he would like to see how he feels.
"It's not as disgusting as it sounds or it may sound like that," Yong said. "It's not sticky, you can actually erase it pretty easily, and it feels almost, I will not say nice, but odd, almost ethereal."
Though the donkeys live a somewhat grim, grotesque life, eating carcasses and slimming things that they would like to eat, the new discovery suggests that there may be more to what they seem to be with these beings – or rather the lack of eyes.
Sofia Boyd and Ed McNaley produce and edit this broadcasting story.