Light diminishes rapidly as one descends into the ocean — and one’s experience becomes less and less like a bright blue paradise and more and more like a bad part of Atlantic City. At about 600 feet (100 fathoms), the sunlit euphotic zone ends and the disphotic zone reluctantly begins. Here, only a tiny fraction of sunlight penetrates, and one finds no plants, no police presence, and paycheck cashing/bail bondsmen services on every corner. If you get out of your submersible in the disphotic zone (NOTE: this is not advised), then you’re on your own. But if you do, definitely lock it, set the alarm, and put your valuables in the trunk.
Drop down to 3,000 feet (500 fathoms) and you enter the aphotic zone, where even light fears to go. Known as The Void (or V-Town to the locals), the aphotic zone is a dreadful, unforgiving world set in perpetual darkness. It is here that Nature has hidden her most gruesome creations, which are collectively some of the worst cases of DNA expression one can imagine. Truly, the aphotic zone is no neighborhood for a Queen Angelfish to find herself at 3 A.M., heels in hand, after taking a wrong turn down a coral alley and suddenly realizing her phone has no bars and there’s not a cab in sight.
‘Oh dear. Not good. This is not good.’
The Deep Sea Anglerfish (Order Lophiiformes, lit. ‘nothing but trouble’) is a prime example. The Anglerfish is mostly mouth, and the parts of its anatomy that aren’t mouth – tissues, organs, fins, and a couple of eyes just for show – exist only to serve the mouth and move the mouth around. While polls show that most people consider a floating angry mouth is creepy enough as it is, this one is packed with sharp, horrifying, inward-angled teeth that are specifically designed to prevent the escape of its victims.
‘Plus everyone tells me I have bad breath.’
To say that anglerfish are antisocial is an understatement – they are natural born killers, through and through. The roughly 200 species of anglerfish bobbing around the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans are all business. Directly above the mouths of females is a fleshy stalk that protrudes from their dorsal spines. When an anglerfish spots prey, it goes deathly still, wiggles the end of the stalk as bait, and dinner swims right up to those waiting jaws.1 To understand how disappointing this is for their prey, try to imagine a late night fast food drive-thru that has tempting pictures of yummy double-bacon burgers on the menu, only when you pull around to the first window there are no yummy double-bacon burgers but instead you get punched in the face, dragged from your car and eaten alive.
Thus do we arrive at the name ‘anglerfish.’ They are fish that fish.
Because they live in absolute darkness without even a keychain flashlight, deep sea anglerfish species have developed a lure equipped with a bioluminescent photophore. That is to say, the organs at the end of their organic fishing poles actually glow in the dark, thanks to light-producing bacteria, most of whom either have no clue what manner of horror they’re intricately involved with or, at the very least, choose to look the other way. Plus, the lure glows in the same wavelengths of blue that the anglerfish’s skin tends to absorb, meaning the light from the lure doesn’t reflect back from the anglerfish and thus the anglerfish remains virtually invisible to its prey. All a victim sees is a shiny blue neon sign that promises good times but delivers the polar opposite (much like the entrance to a casino in Atlantic City).
‘All-you-can-eat shrimp for $3.99 and the loosest slots in town. Also, I’ll comp your drinks. No losers here. Bada boom, bada bing.’
When it comes to reproduction, many species of Deep Sea Anglerfish have adopted an adorably romantic strategy. Consider Ceratias holboelli. The male is tiny, black, and about the size of a finger, so if a female floats by when he’s feeling randy, he bites her, holds on, releases an enzyme and waits. Soon his mouth fuses with her flesh and their bloodstreams merge2. Then it gets really mushy and sentimental as his eyes and internal organs and skin dissolve away, leaving only his gonads and the keys to his cherry-red Camaro3 for the female to haul around wherever she goes.
Naturally, he regrets this almost immediately, but it’s too late and there’s no pre-nup. What’s more, the female may carry around the remains of up to six males fused to her body. So when she’s ready to settle down and have larvae she has some dudes already lined up. All she has to do is look down and see who’s grafted to her abdomen.
None of this good in any way.
1 The jaws of anglerfish are extremely pliable, allowing them to swallow fish twice their size. And, we’d guess, lots of maximum strength Pepcid AC.
2 This is why, when you’re heartbroken, you should never listen to people who try to console you with the maxim ‘there are plenty of fish in the sea.’ While this is technically true, you should also be aware that Deep Sea Anglerfish (and, for that matter, barracudas and deadly venomous Stonefish) are among those other fish in the sea. And as long as we’re on the subject of Deep Sea Anglerfish, you can also now confidently ignore ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark.’ Also, on a completely unrelated note, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way’ is kind of pointless too.
3 T-tops, low miles, aftermarket tachometer, sheepskin seat covers, 6-disc CD changer. Perfect interior, but needs some body work. $2,000 OBO.