Guide The Biology of Hagfishes

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Hagfish also have a well-developed network of capillaries in their skin, which might allow them to "breathe" through their skin when buried in mud. Hagfish can't see well, but have other sharp senses. Hagfish don't have compound eyes that can resolve images, but instead possess simple eyespots that can detect light.

In some species, the eyespots are covered by skin. Hagfish depend on their well-developed senses of smell and touch to navigate and find food. They have several pairs of barbels, sensing tentacles, around their mouths and single nostril on the top of their heads.

Human uses

They're jawless and boneless. Hagfish are the only living animals that have a skull but no spine. Their skeleton is made up entirely of cartilage. Like lampreys, they are jawless; instead, they have a pair of horizontally moving structures with tooth-like projections that they use to grasp and tear off pieces of food. Hagfish are ancient. The only known fossil hagfish, which is million years old, looks very similar to modern hagfish. Their feeding habits are disgusting but important.

Although they have been observed actively hunting fish, hagfish mostly feed on dead and dying creatures on the sea floor. They are known to bury themselves face-first in a carcass, boring a tunnel deep into its flesh to eat their meal from the inside out.

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Hagfish perform an important ecological service, cleaning and recycling dead animals from the sea floor. Hagfish can go months without eating. Hagfish have slow metabolisms and can survive months between feedings. They can also absorb nutrients across their skin and gills.

They are masters of sliming. Hagfish can produce copious amounts of sticky, fibrous slime from glands running along the sides of their bodies. This slime helps them repel or escape from predators. One purpose of the slime might be clogging the gills of attackers. This — video by researchers in New Zealand shows how the hagfish is able to repel attacks by predators, including several kinds of sharks.

Bibliografische Information

To wipe its slime away, the hagfish will tie itself into a knot and work the knot from its head to its tail, scraping off the slime as it goes. If its nostril fills with slime, the hagfish will "sneeze" to clear out the clog. Hagfish slime could be the fiber of the future. Hagfish slime contains tens of thousands of very thin times smaller than a human hair protein threads.


The threads are extremely strong, and when stretched and dried out they resemble spider silk. Like spider silk, scientists think hagfish slime could be woven together to produce super-strong fabrics. Potentially, hagfish slime could be used to create material with the strength of nylon or plastic, and applications range from bulletproof vests to artificial tissues. Bardack, D. First fossil hagfish Myxinoidea : A record from the Pennsylvania of Illinois. Science Fudge, D. Composition, morphology and mechanics of hagfish slime.

Journal of Experimental Biology Glover, C. Adaptations to in situ feeding: novel nutrient acquisition pathways in an ancient vertebrate.

Myxine ios, White-headed hagfish

Consequently the hagfishes have played and still playa central role in discussions concerning the evolution of the vertebrates. Although most of the focus on hagfishes may be the result of their being primitive, it should not be forgotten that, at the same time, they are specialized animals with a unique way of life that is interesting in its own right.

It is now more than 30 years since a comprehensive treatise on hagfishes was published. The Biology of Myxine, edited by Alf Brodal and Ragnar Fange Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, , provided a wealth of information on the biology of hagfishes, and over the years remained a major source of information and inspiration to students of hagfishes.

It succeeds because of its breadth and because of the consistent approach of the authors JavaScript is currently disabled, this site works much better if you enable JavaScript in your browser. Life Sciences Ecology.

Hagfish Biology

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  • About this book The hagfishes comprise a uniform group of some 60 species inhabiting the cool or deep parts of the oceans of both hemispheres. Show all.

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