Do you remember that scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s father and Dora swim into very dark waters and see a bulb of light hanging in the middle of the dark water? After playing with it for a moment they discover that it’s actually a glowing tendril coming out of a big nasty fish with huge spiky teeth. A hilarious chase ensues.
Not only is this a real fish that exists but also it is an incredibly fascinating species, with one of the strangest reproductive cycles you’ve never heard of. The fish depicted in Finding Nemo is called an Anglerfish. Anglerfish are fish that live very deep in the ocean where sunlight can no longer penetrate. Their distinctive features include their large teeth and mouths and growth out of their spine that dangles in front of their mouth. Overall they are quite vicious looking. For some species of Anglerfish, bioluminescent bacteria will form a symbiotic relationship with the growth, causing it to glow. This glowing protrusion serves as a method to attracting prey for the fish, hence it “angles” for prey (like a fishing rod) and thus the name.
However, this is not the only strange and fascinating thing about Anglerfish. This image of an Anglerfish given above only describes the female fish. The male fish are quite a bit different from the females. Whereas the females can grow to be up to 3 feet in length, the males are comparatively tiny. When the males are born they are often blind, and in many cases they may have their digestive tracts closed such that they can’t even eat. The males do have one thing going for them: they have very good noses.
The female Anglerfish give off pheromones that the males can smell through the water and the single purpose of the male’s life is to find a female. After being born the males must quickly find a female fish as otherwise they will likely die, due to their physical impairments. Upon finding a female the male fish will bite the female. This releases an enzyme from the female that, quite literally, melts the male. Only one part of the male survives: the gonads.
That’s right. The male, immediately after birth has to find a female (lest it should die first), bite into the female, dissolve its entire body, leaving only testicles. This means that when the female ovulates it has a ready supply of sperm so that it may immediately conceive. Not only this, but also multiple males may attach themselves to a single female, meaning the female will be literally covered in balls.
So yes, you just did read that correctly. The female Anglerfish are big nasty killing creatures with huge fang-like teeth and glowing protrusions to attract pray. The male Anglerfish live only to mate and do so by killing themselves and donating their testicles to the female. That way the female may readily reproduce without need to find a partner. There must be some feministic justice in here somewhere.
By: Jonah Scheinerman
(Photo by wallyg under a Creative Commons license)