Earth’s ocean depths are often referred to as the planet’s last great unexplored frontier. Blacker than the darkest night, crushed by unimaginable pressure and for the most part untouched by the hand of Man, the benthic world is bursting with life – though in many cases not life as we know it. Here are 7 exceptional examples of the wonders lurking far beneath.
The Pacific Barreleye (Macropinna microstoma) is one of a group of deep sea fish that have evolved a unique set of anatomical accoutrements to fit their particular lifestyle. These fish are very fragile and specimens brought to the surface by fisherman and researchers were distorted by the pressure differential. This fish’s most unique features are its soft, transparent head and the barrel-shaped eyes within. Normally fixed in an upward-looking position with green “lens caps” to filter out sunlight, the Pacific Barreleye can swivel and telescope its odd eyes much like Bender of Futurama.
What appear to be “eyes” are sensory organs; the real eyes reside inside the fish’s fighter plane canopy style forehead. Below is a video of the Pacific Barreleye in its natural habitat, looking very UNnatural:
Bathysaurus sounds like a dinosaur and it looks like one too – and not one of the nice, gentle plant-eaters, either. The cutie above, Bathysaurus Ferox to be exact, is described as “the world’s deepest-living superpredator”: anything and everything it meets, it eats. Once Bathysaurus latches on to lunch it’s game over: the fiendish fish’s jaws and even its tongue are studded with razor-sharp fangs.
(image via: Skwirlinator)
With a face only a mother could love, one might think Bathysaurus Ferox might have a tough time getting a date. Not to worry; the fearsome-faced bottom dweller has both male and female sex organs. As CSNY used to say (or sing), “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”.
How awesomely badass is the Viperfish? Maybe you can’t handle the tooth! If one glance at its fang-tastic kisser didn’t convince you it was the embodiment of evil, consider this: it preys on Dragonfish and we’re sure they’re no pushovers. Most Viperfish have expandable stomachs that allow them to ingest fish larger themselves in one bite… and WHAT a bite!
(image via: All Time Greatest Hits)
If you’re lucky, the closest you’ll come to being eye to eye with a Viperfish is by checking out the cover of Mr. Bungle’s 1995 album Disco Volante.
Deep Sea Anglerfish
A trademark of deep sea Anglerfish is their lure, which tends to resemble a tiny creature in upper ocean species but becomes bioluminescent in benthic species. One of the scariest scenes in Finding Nemo involved Dory being hypnotically drawn to a glowing light… which turned out to be attached to the toothiest Anglerfish EVAR! There are many different types of Deep-sea Anglerfish but the rule of thumb seems to be: the deeper they are, the uglier they are.
(image via: Magazine 13)
They don’t get much better once hauled to the surface either, as the unfortunate specimen above illustrates. The sudden reduction in pressure caused its stomach to balloon out into its mouth. Nice.
Known officially as Helicocranchia Pfefferi, the cuter than cute Banded Piglet Squid is a welcome relief from the bug-eyed, big-toothed menagerie of horror that seems to typify deep sea life. The squid lives in the dim middle-ocean layer several thousand feet beneath the surface.
(image via: Seaway Blog)
Perhaps only the difficulty in creating a livable environment and the near-impossibility of finding suitable live food has prevented the Banded Piglet Squid from becoming a home aquarium superstar.
Japanese Giant Spider Crab
Spider crab’s big, yeah yeah yeah. It’s not small, no no no. Need some numbers? Try a 13-foot (4m) leg span, a 15-inch (37cm) wide body and a weight of up to 44 pounds (20kg). Japanese Giant Spider Crabs can live up to 100 years, similar to the largest and oldest lobsters. These spindly seafloor dwellers are the cleaners of the deep, making short work of the dead and dying alike. Those who’ve watched The Deadliest Catch know that crab traps are baited with cod carcasses to attract crabs from miles around. This is one case where, if attacked, playing dead is NOT recommended.
(image via: Vince Lewis)
Japanese Giant Spider Crabs are a delicacy though eating one requires about a cow & a half of butter. Good luck also finding the mother of all cooking pots.
Tongue Eating Louse
Cymothoa exigua is a type of parasitic Isopod (crustaceans often called Sea Woodlice) with a very unusual lifestyle. After entering the mouth of a Spotted Rose Snapper, it attaches itself to the base of the fish’s tongue and derives nourishment by sucking its blood. Eventually the fish’s tongue atrophies and shrinks as a result of the chronic blood loss, at which point Cymothoa grasps the tongue-stub with its lower legs and effectively becomes the fish’s tongue!
(image via: Bugs In The News)
Once it replaces its tongue, Cymothoa does not eat leftovers from the fish’s meals, instead continuing to feed on fish blood or on mucus secreted inside the fish’s mouth. There are indications Cymothoa may be spreading – fishermen have recently reported finding Cymothoa infesting the mouths of Weaver fish caught off the Jersey (the UK island, not the US state) coast near Normandy, France. While not exclusively a “deep sea” creature, Cymothoa is bizarre enough to out-weird pretty much any other marine lifeform found at any depth.
As children we worried about monsters under the bed but luckily we grew up and found out they weren’t real. How disconcerting, then, to learn that a nightmarish house of horrors beyond anyone’s imagination lurks below the waves on the ocean’s bed. At the same time, one must admire the way nature has provided these creatures with the adaptations, bizarre as they might seem, to survive in the world’s most most hostile environment.
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