Devils, ghosts and goblins. Oh, my!
Spooky by name, spectacular by nature
There are so many creatures that lurk in the oceans depths, so this Halloween we wanted to put the spotlight on some of the spookiest species we could find.
So, strap yourselves in, coz it’s about to get freaky deaky in the deep dark depths.
It’s hard to go past ghost sharks when it comes to freaky fish. If being called ghost sharks isn’t spooky enough, they’re also commonly called “spook fish”, as well as “ratfish” and “rabbit fish”.
Ghost sharks aren’t actually sharks at all. They are a group of fish called Chimeras. Chimeras are closely related to sharks, but they diverged over 400 million years ago. Unlike sharks, Chimeras don’t have mouths full of teeth. Instead they have just 3 grinding plates.
Like sharks, chimeras use electroreception to find prey. Unlike sharks, though, the snout of many Chimeras is modified into an elongated sensory organ like you can see in the image below.
Chimeras are deep water species, living in temperate waters across the world. They have been found living at depths of almost 3000m, but some occur shallower than 200m.
There are currently 50 known species, but they were once highly abundant in ancient seas.
Demon catsharks are about as mysterious as demons themselves. We know virtually nothing about these deep water sharks, with a number being listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Demon catsharks generally fall in the genus Apristurus which currently has 38 known species.
They have big nostrils, small dorsal fins set far back, and can be coloured anywhere from white to brown to black depending on the species.
They are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. The eggs are made of a flexible but tough collagen proteins, and many have tendrils that are used to help attach the eggs to rocks and kelp.
They have sharp teeth and are thought to eat bony fishes, cephalopods and even other sharks!
Pigmy devils, spinetail devils, giant devils?! No, I am not listing lords of the underworld. These are all species that fall into a group of rays called the Devil Rays. Devil rays are all part of the Mobula genus.
They’re also called “flying rays“ because of a behaviour where they launch themselves out of the water and crash back down making an almighty splash. The reasons for this behaviour are unclear, but some speculate that it’s a means of communication, while others believe it helps remove parasites.
At full size and depending on the species, Mobula rays can grow from 1.1m to a whopping 7m across. The biggest species is the Oceanic Manta Ray. These beasts can weigh up to 1,600kg at full size.
Until recently, Mobula Rays and Manta Rays were believed to belong to separate genuses. However, genetic analysis has shown that they are much more closely related. They’re now all part of the Mobula genus of which there are 8 known species.
These rays are characterised by pointed wingtips giving them their diamond shape. Their heads are wide with cephalic lobes on each side. The rays use these lobes to feed on plankton. When unfurled, the lobes help direct plankton-rich water into their gaping mouths. The rays then curl them up when they’re swimming.
It’s a snake! It’s an eel! No, wait. It’s the frilled shark!
This freaky fish is named for its gills. Unlike other sharks that have pairs of gills on either side of the head, the first ‘pair’ of gills in the frilled shark are actually joined underneath the head. It also has 6 sets of gills, where other sharks typically have 5. The gills also have a red ‘fringe’, giving them a frilled appearance.
This species is found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, at depths of 50 to 1,200m. One specimen was caught at 1,570m depth, however.
They’re mouths are filled with 300 needle-like teeth which are trident shaped and arranged in 25 rows.
While no one has ever seen these sharks hunting, it’s largely believed that they bend their body and launch towards their prey, like a snake.
Their diet remains a bit of a mystery, but they have been found with squid, fishes and occasionally other small sharks in their stomachs.
It’s thought that they have a long gestation period, of about 3 and a half years. Which is the longest known gestation period for any species! This is thought to be because of their cold, deep water habitats.
Introducing NIGHTMARE FUEL!
I mean, the goblin shark.
The goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) is basically a living fossil. It’s the only living species in its genus, which emerged some 125 million years ago.
This prehistoric badass is a rare deep sea shark found a depths greater than 100m across the globe.
Don’t let the their snaggle-teeth fool you, these fish aren’t exactly high speed predators. They are actually veeeeery slow moving. It’s believed that they drift along until they come across some unsuspecting prey, which they then ambush, engulfing it in their enormous slingshot-like jaws.
Their snouts are elongated and flattened, giving them a sword-like appearance. These snouts are covered in Ampullae of Lorenzini, which is an organ that sharks and rays have to detect electrical currents of prey.
Something that makes goblin sharks so unique (erm, apart from their unicorn snout and projectile jaws I guess…) is that they’re pink! Their colour can range from a pinkish grey to even a bubble gum pink! Who could be scared of a pink shark, right?
What’s even cooler is that their skin isn’t pink at all, their skin is actually translucent. They appear pink because we’re actually seeing oxygenated blood pumping through their capillaries under their see-through skin! Mind. Blown.
Be sure to check back next month for another Species Spotlight.