The Horrors of Anglerfish Mating

Wikimedia Commons

When you think of an anglerfish, you probably think of something like the creature above: Big mouth. Gnarly teeth. Lure bobbing from its head. Endless nightmares following. 

During the 19th century, when scientists began to discover, describe, and classify anglerfish from a particular branch of the anglerfish family tree—the suborder Ceratioidei—that’s what they thought of, too. The problem was that they were only seeing half the picture. The specimens that they were working with were all female, and they had no idea where the males were or what they looked like. Researchers sometimes found some other fish that seemed to be related based on their body structure, but they lacked the fearsome maw and lure typical of ceratioids and were much smaller—sometimes only as long as six or seven millimeters—and got placed into separate taxonomic groups.

It wasn’t until the 1920s—almost a full century after the first ceratioid was entered into the scientific record—that things started to become a little clearer. In 1922, Icelandic biologist Bjarni Saemundsson discovered a female ceratioid with two of these smaller fish attached to her belly by their snouts. He assumed it was a mother and her babies, but was puzzled by the arrangement.

“I can form no idea of how, or when, the larvae, or young, become attached to the mother. I cannot believe that the male fastens the egg to the female,” he wrote. “This remains a puzzle for some future researchers to solve.”

When Saemundsson kicked the problem down the road, it was Charles Tate Regan, working at the British Museum of Natural History in 1924, who picked it up. Regan also found a smaller fish attached to a female ceratioid. When he dissected it, he realized it wasn’t a different species or the female angler’s child. It was her mate. 

The “missing” males had been there all along, just unrecognized and misclassified, and Regan and other scientists, like Norwegian zoologist Albert Eide Parr, soon figured out why the male ceratioids looked so different. They don’t need lures or big mouths and teeth because they don’t hunt, and they don’t hunt because they have the females. The ceratioid male, Regan wrote, is “merely an appendage of the female, and entirely dependent on her for nutrition.” In other words, a parasite.

When ceratioid males go looking for love, they follow a species-specific pheromone to a female, who will often aid their search further by flashing her bioluminescent lure. Once the male finds a suitable mate, he bites into her belly and latches on until his body fuses with hers. Their skin joins together, and so do their blood vessels, which allows the male to take all the nutrients he needs from his host/mate’s blood. The two fish essentially become one. 

With his body attached to hers like this, the male doesn't have to trouble himself with things like seeing or swimming or eating like a normal fish. The body parts he doesn’t need anymore—eyes, fins, and some internal organs—atrophy, degenerate and wither away, until he’s little more than a lump of flesh hanging from the female, taking food from her and providing sperm whenever she’s ready to spawn. 

Extreme size differences between the sexes and parasitic mating aren’t found in all anglerfish. Throughout the other suborders, there are males that are free-swimming their whole lives, that can hunt on their own and that only attach to the females temporarily to reproduce before moving along. For deep-sea ceratioids that might only rarely bump into each other in the abyss, though, the weird mating ritual is a necessary adaptation to keep mates close at hand and ensure that there will always be more little anglerfish. And for us, it’s something to both marvel and cringe at, a reminder that the natural world is often as strange as any fiction we can imagine.

Naturalist William Beebe put it nicely in 1938, writing, “But to be driven by impelling odor headlong upon a mate so gigantic, in such immense and forbidding darkness, and willfully eat a hole in her soft side, to feel the gradually increasing transfusion of her blood through one’s veins, to lose everything that marked one as other than a worm, to become a brainless, senseless thing that was a fish—this is sheer fiction, beyond all belief unless we have seen the proof of it.”

Rhode Island Approves Bill to Create an Animal Abuser Registry

iStock/Kerkez
iStock/Kerkez

In what could be a major step toward curbing animal cruelty, Rhode Island just passed a bill requiring convicted abusers to be placed on a statewide registry. The objective? To make sure they don’t adopt another animal.

According to KUTV, the bill was approved by the Rhode Island House of Representatives on Thursday and is awaiting Senate approval. Under the law, anyone convicted of abusing an animal would be required to pay a $125 fee and register with the database. The collection of names will be made available to animal shelters and adoption agencies, which will be required to check the registry before adopting out any pets. If the prospective owner’s name appears, they will not be permitted to adopt the animal.

Convicted abusers have five days to register, either from the time of their conviction if no jail time is mandated or from the time of their release. The prohibition on owning another animal lasts 15 years. If they're convicted a second time, they would be banned for life.

A number of communities across the country have enacted similar laws in recent years, including Hillsborough County in Florida, Cook County in Illinois, and New York City. The state of Louisiana was fielding a bill last week, but the proposal was ultimately pulled from committee consideration after a critical response from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The group’s policy statement argues that registries are costly to maintain, not often utilized by adoption centers, and don’t address the potential for abusers to find animals in other ways. The group also asserts that registries may influence potential convictions, as defendants and their legal representation might plea to lesser charges to avoid being placed in the database. The ASPCA instead recommends court-mandated no-contact orders for convicted animal abusers.

[h/t KUTV]

This Inflatable Sloth Pool Float Is the Perfect Accessory for Lazy Summer Days

SwimWays
SwimWays

Summer is the perfect time to channel your inner sloth. Even if you don't plan on sleeping 15 to 20 hours a day, you can take inspiration from the animal's lifestyle and plan to move as little as possible. This supersized sloth pool float from SwimWays, spotted by Romper, will help you achieve that goal.

It's hard not to feel lazy when you're being hugged by a giant inflatable sloth. This floating pool chair is 50 inches long, 40 inches tall, and 36 inches wide, with two "arms" to support you as you lounge in the water.

One of the sloth's paws includes a built-in cup holder, so you don't have to expend any extra energy by getting up in order to stay hydrated. Unlike some pool floats, this accessory allows you to sit upright—which means you can drink, read, or talk to the people around you without straining your neck.

The sloth floatie is available for $35 on Amazon or Walmart. SwimWays also makes the same product in different animal designs, including a panda and a teddy bear. And if you're looking for a pool accessory that gives you even more room to spread out, this inflatable dachshund float may be just what you need.

People sitting in animal pool floats.
SwimWays

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